How do Ohio courts decide to allocate parental rights in child custody cases?

Mark TiptonUncategorized

When parents are involved in a child custody case, they naturally want to know how parental rights are to be determined. What will an Ohio court use to decide where their child will live? What will be the child’s parenting schedule? The answer is that it depends upon “all relevant factors” in the child’s life. In other words, everything related to the child’s well-being is to be considered. Helpfully, Ohio statutory law has listed specific factors for courts to evaluate in reaching their decisions. The overarching goal of such decisions is the best interest of the child.

The factors begin with the wishes of the child’s parents regarding the child’s care. Typically, the parents wish for opposing arrangements in contested child custody cases. Next, for children of sufficient reasoning ability, the child’s wishes and concerns about his or her parental arrangements are to be considered. These thoughts can be expressed to a magistrate or judge via an in camera interview or to a home investigator or Guardian ad Litem. Another factor is the child’s relationship with parents, siblings, and other people close to the child.

Courts are also to evaluate the child’s home, school, and community life. For instance, is the child significantly involved in school or community activities that enhance his or her life? If so, they are relevant factors. The court shall also weigh the mental and physical health of all the people closely involved in the matter. Also, how will each parent honor and follow the court’s orders regarding parenting time? Yet another factor is child support and whether the parent paying child support is current or has an arrearage.

Whether a parent or other household member has had prior court determinations affirming a child has been abused or neglected and/or the parent or household member committed domestic violence and/or sexual offenses are naturally relevant to the child’s safety and well-being. Also, whether a parent has a pattern of denying parenting time to the other parent is to be considered. One other factor is whether either parent has moved or intends to move out of state.

For a possible shared parenting plan, courts are to consider any special and unusual needs of the child and extraordinary costs associated with parenting time, including extraordinary travel expenses. For example, if one parent lives far away, and visits would be very expensive, a court can make appropriate parenting orders for such a circumstance. The financial resources and the earning ability of the child can also be considered. Other considerations include each parent’s relative financial resources, including their incomes and the disparity in income between them or their households, other assets, and the needs of each parent. Any benefits that either parent receives from remarriage or sharing living expenses are also to be considered as is the amount of federal, state, and local taxes paid by each parent.

Any significant in-kind contributions from a parent, such as payments for lessons, sports equipment, schooling, or clothing, are relevant as are extraordinary work-related expenses incurred by either parent. A court is also to weigh the standard of living and circumstances of each parent and the child, educational opportunities that may have been missed by the child, the responsibility of each parent for the support of others, and post-secondary educational expenses paid for by a parent. Extraordinary child care costs required for the child due to specialized physical, psychological, or educational needs are also relevant.

In evaluating a possible shared parenting plan, courts need to consider the ability of the parents to cooperate and make decisions jointly for the child; the ability of each parent to encourage love, affection, and contact between the child and each parent; any concerns about child abuse, domestic violence, or kidnapping; and, as a practical matter, the proximity of the parents to each other’s residence.

If a Guardian ad Litem has been appointed for the child, the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem will also be carefully considered by a court.

With such a long list of specific factors, practically anything important to the child’s well-being can and is to be considered. Ideally, courts want a child to have a positive, meaningful relationship with each parent if possible.

For convenience, courts typically have standard parenting time schedules which they often use as a starting point for creating child custody schedules. They may elect to change one or more elements of a standard schedule to best fit the family’s situation and the child’s needs.

Once a court has established an order regarding parenting arrangements, it is not to be changed unless mutually agreed upon by the parents. However, if there is a substantial change in circumstance in the child’s or residential parent’s life, such as a significant criminal charge, or a downturn in the child’s grades or well-being, a court can reconsider the best interest of a child to craft new arrangements for parenting time which are most suitable.

If you have a child custody matter that requires legal attention, call attorney Mark Tipton at 419-636-0010. There is no charge to speak directly with the attorney, and he will provide you with a straightforward evaluation of how to approach your specific child custody situation.

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