In a divorce either or both parents can be awarded custody of the children. Judges have significant discretion in making child custody arrangements. In Ohio, the parent deemed most capable of nurturing and caring for the child, who appears to have a sincere desire to care for the child is usually awarded physical custody by the court.
Either parent can request that the judge have an “in camera” discussion with the children in the judge’s chambers. In this meeting, the child can express his or her preference as to which parent he or she would prefer to live with. No child in Ohio has the absolute right to determine this, but if the child can adequately express himself or herself in the opinion of the court, that child’s wishes will be given much consideration. In the eyes of the court, the parents stand on the equal ground unless there is some factor that deems one of the parents less desirable.
Another custody arrangement which is being used more often is joint custody or shared parenting. In this case, the divorcing parents work out an agreement—called a shared parenting plan. The plan designates parental rights and responsibilities and addresses such issues as the residence of the children, child care, religion, medical needs and methods to dissolve disputes without going back to court. These factors are considered when the court looks at approving the parenting plan:
- The ability of the parents to cooperate and make joint decisions with respect to their children;
- The ability of each to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child
and the other parent;
- Any history of or potential for a child or spousal abuse or other domestic violence;
- Geographic proximity of parents to each other;
- Recommendations of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) if one has been appointed for the child. A GAL is appointed in a divorce case at the request of either party or by court motion. It is a person knowledgeable in domestic relations law who protects the interests of the minor children. When child custody is contested, a GAL is often appointed.
In Ohio divorcing parents will usually be required by the court to complete one or more classes aimed at helping the children adjust to the divorce. Completion of these classes can also be ordered before visitation is granted.
If the custody situation winds up being sole parenting, the nonresidential parent will most likely have visitation rights. The custodial parent should be aware that the payment of child support and visitation are separate issues and one cannot deny visitation because support is not up-to-date.
Third parties, such as grandparents, step-parents, or other relatives can also request visitation rights. The court can grant an order of parenting time, companionship or visitation and it can terminate parental rights in extreme cases. The court considers several “best interest of the child” factors in deciding whether to grant or remove these rights. (See Ohio Revised Code Section 3109 (F)(4) under ‘Factors’ heading in this article).
The court can also impose supervised parental visitation, usually on a temporary basis. If there have been proven incidents of domestic violence, for example, this could be an outcome. The denial of visitation does not allow a parent to stop paying support. The denial of
visitation does not allow a parent to stop paying support.
Factors the Court Considers in Awarding Visitation
In deciding whether to grant visitation rights, the court considers:
- The prior interaction with the person requesting visitation if that person is not a parent, brother,
sister or relative;
- The geographical location of each parent and the distance between the residences or residence
of the person requesting visitation if not a parent;
- The child’s and parent’s available time, including, but not limited to, the parent’s work schedule,
the children’s school schedule, the child’s and parent’s holiday/vacation schedule;
- The age of the child;
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community;
- The child’s wishes;
- The health and safety of the child;
- The amount of time available to the child to spend with siblings;
- The mental/physical health of the parties;
- Each parent’s willingness to reschedule missed visitation to encourage the other parent’s
- Whether the parent or other party requesting visitation has been convicted or plead guilty to
- Whether either parent has continuously or willfully denied the other visitation;
- Whether either parent has established or plans to establish a residence out-of-state;
- Any other factor in the best interest of the child.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Child Custody Matter?
There may be no other area where it is more important to obtain legal assistance than in child custody matters. Judges have considerable discretion in making decisions about who will care for the children and who will be the custodial parent, or if parents are good candidates for shared custody. You need someone who will represent that you are a competent parent and have a strong desire to be involved in your children’s lives on a frequent basis.
Slater & Zurz LLP is a law firm that can help with any child custody issues. Call them at 1-888-534-4850 and ask for a family law attorney. The firm can also assist with child custody order modifications which are further discussed under that family law practice area heading.