Ohio Child Custody Laws

Understand how child custody is determined and how to modify custody and visitation orders.

Ohio Child Custody

Child custody is always a hot-button issue in a divorce. If you’re faced with an upcoming custody determination in Ohio, here’s what you need to know to help you prepare for what’s to come.

What are the Different Types of Custody in Ohio?

Sole custody and shared parenting ( also referred to as joint custody”) are the two forms of child custody recognized by the state of Ohio.

Each of these arrangements centers on the parent or both parents who have the right to the legal and physical control of a child.

When one parent is granted sole custody, they are primarily in control of making significant decisions for a child, including medical care, where to live and go to school, and religious upbringing. Unless there’s a good reason to deny it, the other parent will be granted visitation privileges.

With shared custody, both parents are designated the legal custodian of their minor children.

Either parent or both parents can request the court to grant shared-parenting rights and responsibilities. The parent making the request must submit a proposed plan covering all factors relevant to the child’s care, such as the physical living arrangements (parenting time schedule), child support, medical decisions, and health insurance coverage. In a shared parenting time arrangement, parents must work together cooperatively for the child’s good. When this happens, the court will likely approve and adopt the Shared Parenting Plan as a court order.

Shared custody does not mean that each parent is entitled to equal shared parenting time. There is often a disparity in the amount of time a child spends with each parent. In a shared parenting situation, both parents are considered the “residential parent” for legal purposes. As such, both parents share in making major decisions affecting their child’s life.

Plans that permit equal parenting time may benefit children in some scenarios, but not always. The children’s ages, school and work schedules, and the distance between the parents are just a few reasons a 50/50 parenting time schedule may not work well.

Also, there is no automatic credit for child support if you have shared parenting. Ohio law requires that child support is calculated by following specific statutory calculations (Ohio Child Support Guidelines) regardless of sole custody or shared status.

When determining a child custody case, the Ohio Revised Code provides a list of factors to help the court determine the children’s best interests.

In addition to those factors, and trying to decide if shared parenting is in the best interests of the child, the court will consider:

  • the parents’ ability to cooperate and make decisions about the child jointly
  • each parent’s ability to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent
  • any history of, or potential for, child abuse, spouse abuse, other domestic violence, or parental kidnapping by either parent
  • the geographic proximity of the parents to each other, as it relates to the practical considerations of shared parenting
  • the recommendation of the guardian ad litem of the child, if the child has one.

Child Custody Basics

How is Custody Determined in Ohio?

The child’s best interests determine all decisions about child custody in Ohio.

A judge will consider the parents’ desires for custody, but the child’s needs and not the parent’s wishes control the outcome. Either parent can petition the court for child custody and submit a proposed plan as part of the petition.

A court can also require the parent not requesting shared parenting to submit a proposed parenting plan. If both parents agree on shared parenting, either by reaching a custody agreement on their own or through mediation, the parents can submit a joint shared parenting plan to the court for approval.

Under Ohio child custody laws, a judge can accept a parent’s parenting plan as is, or the judge can modify the plan to best serve the child’s needs.

Judges don’t like to break up siblings or cause fractured relationships with family members, so they prefer custody arrangements that support healthy family interactions and continuity.

Courts also appreciate parents who have demonstrated respect for past custody decisions and the other parent’s relationship with the child. Consistently meeting past support obligations is also a favorable factor that judges consider as part of a custody order.

If parents can’t reach a decision and create a suitable parenting plan, then the court will refer to O.R.C. 3109.04, which requires the court to take into account the best interest of a minor child.

At a child custody hearing, after evidence is presented and admitted, the court will apply the evidence to the factors to determine a custody order. The goal is to be fair within the framework of Ohio law, along with the understanding that judges have a fair amount of leeway in granting custody on a case-by-case basis.

What to know about temporary orders

Temporary orders can be issued for a variety of reasons. Judges favor keeping the status quo. However, various issues can alter the “status quo,” such as alcoholism or abuse. Regardless of what the temporary order is for, it is only “temporary,” so any temporary order issued is not necessarily what the final court order will be.

What is a Guardian ad Litem/Custody Evaluator?

Ohio courts typically do not require using a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in a custody action. However, they can prove valuable when possible disputes may arise.

A GAL is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interest of the minor children and report to the court what they believe is in the children’s best interest.

The GAL meets with parents and children, interviews witnesses, and investigates matters unique to each custody case. A GAL will generate a report and file it with the court.

Though the GAL’s report is a final say in the court’s decision concerning custody or shared parenting, a judge will give a great deal of weight to the GAL’s opinion.

Shared Parenting and The Best Interests of the Child Standard

A child’s needs or best interests are at the heart of any custody decision. Judges in Ohio do not have any formal criteria to make this determination. Instead, a judge will look at the child’s overall living situation, relationships, and other factors that impact the child’s needs and well-being before deciding on a custody arrangement.

These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • each parent’s relationship with the child
  • each parent’s wishes for parental rights and responsibilities
  • the child’s wishes
  • the child’s relationship with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest
  • the child’s adjustment to his home, school, and community
  • each parent’s physical and mental health
  • each parent’s willingness to facilitate a relationship between the child and other parent
  • whether either parent has failed to make all child support payments, including all arrearages, that are required by a child support order
  • either parent’s history of domestic abuse or neglect
  • whether either parent has prevented visitation per an order of the court
  • any other relevant factors

A parent’s history of domestic violence will make it very difficult for that person to receive custody. As part of the best interests standard, a judge may also order the parents and their minor children to submit to medical, psychological, and psychiatric examinations.

Both parents are entitled to regular visitation unless the child’s safety or well-being would be put at risk. Even in cases where a parent has committed domestic abuse, a judge probably won’t cut off visitation completely.

Parents with substance abuse, domestic violence, or other struggles might be granted a custody arrangement with visits supervised by an agency or third party.

Also, neither parent should prevent visits between the child and the other parent. If this happens, the parent preventing visits can face contempt of court charges for violating the custody order.

Read More: Divorce Laws in Ohio

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a set of detailed parenting guidelines that parents agree to or the court orders. It ensures both parents have frequent and continuing contact with their children after a divorce.

There is some flexibility when preparing a parenting plan, but most include provisions for:

  • Decision-making and responsibility
  • Information sharing and access
  • Healthcare coverage
  • Education expenses
  • Extracurricular activities and expenses
  • Residential schedule
  • Holiday, birthday, and vacation planning
  • Visitation on weekends, holidays, and school in-service days preceding or following weekends.
  • Relocation of parents
  • Telephone access
  • Transportation
  • Methods for resolving a custody dispute.

Ohio courts are more likely to approve a parenting plan when both parents demonstrate genuine concern for the best interests of a child, even at their own expense.

In cases where parental abuse, neglect, or drug activity is or has been present in the past, a judge can order supervised parenting time. That means a designated third party, such as a family friend or relative, must be present when a parent visits the child. A court will deny shared parenting time entirely only in extreme circumstances where there is a clear danger to the child.

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Modifying Ohio Child Custody or Visitation Orders

Custody can be modified at any time the court determines a change of circumstances is significant enough to warrant a change in the terms and conditions of the original order. A modification might be necessary due to mental and physical health problems, a job change or promotion, or if abuse or criminal activity can be proven. The overriding premise is that all decisions are made in the child’s best interest.

Either parent can file a request to modify custody from a prior order allocating parental rights and responsibilities.

When an Ohio court adjusts parenting time, it will keep the residential parent the same unless one of the following is true:

  • the residential parent (or both parents under a shared parenting decree) agrees to a change in the residential parent
  • the child, with the consent of the residential parent (or both parents under a shared parenting decree), has been integrated into the family of the person seeking to become the residential parent,
  • the advantages of a change outweigh any harm to the child.

A judge will hold a court hearing to review the evidence and hear witnesses’ testimonies. If the judge feels that a change serves the child’s best interests, they will modify the order as needed.

Ohio Child Custody FAQs

Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights in Ohio?

Yes, but they are often difficult to obtain.

Grandparents can win custody if the court finds the parents unfit. This is a higher standard than the best interest standard a court uses when determining custody between two parents.

Regarding visitation/companionship rights, O.R.C. 3109.051details circumstances where a non-parent relative of a child can seek visitation and companionship rights.

If both parents share custody, does anyone pay child support?

It depends.

A child support award is for the benefit of the children, not the other party. For this reason, courts typically require a good reason for no child support award.

When determining if child support is appropriate, the court considers factors such as the parties’ incomes and parenting time. If there is a significant disparity in either, there will likely be a child support order, regardless of whether there is shared parenting.

Can a parent refuse to allow visitation if child support is not paid?

Parenting time and child support are two separate issues. In both cases, each parent must follow the terms outlined in each or risk incurring penalties by the court. This may include contempt of court charges which could lead to fines or possibly jail time.

Does Ohio favor mothers in custody cases?

No. Courts do not favor one gender over the other when determining child custody cases. All decisions are made based on the child’s best interests.

Can a custodial parent relocate with a child?

In Ohio, if a custodial parent wants to move with a minor child, they must file a notice of intent to relocate with the court and the other parent. If the other parent disagrees with relocation, the court will hold a hearing to determine if the move is in the child’s best interest.

In assessing parental relocation requests, Ohio courts consider several factors, including:

  • The reason behind the proposed move
  • The total distance of the move
  • The impact the cross-state move will have on the child’s social development
  • How the proposed relocation will affect the parent who is staying in Ohio
  • The desires of the child if they are old enough

The other thing to note is that Ohio is a signatory to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This law controls jurisdictional issues in multi-state child custody and visitation cases.

Two key provisions are that the child’s ‘home state’ will have jurisdiction over them in all custody cases and related family law issues, and courts must enforce custody and visitation orders from other states.

Does a child have a say in custody matters?

Yes, but a child’s opinion is not binding and is only one of several factors used in determining custody matters.

Ohio child custody laws do not state a predetermined age, though many counties do in their local rules.

Often they are addressed in the county’s standard order of parenting time. Most counties appear to choose the age of 16 as the age the minor child may decide on their behalf.

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