In Ohio, custody is known as "parental rights and responsibilities" and covers everything from where your child lives to who has authority to make decisions concerning her welfare. As in other states, these rights and responsibilities may be shared between parents or held solely by one parent. During the divorce proceedings, the court will allocate parental rights and responsibilities based on the best interests of your child. Once the divorce decree is issued, this arrangement will be legally binding on both you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
Sole vs. Joint Custody
Before the court issues your divorce decree, it must first decide how to allocate parental rights and responsibilities between you and your spouse. In Ohio, this can result in two possibilities. The first is shared parenting, known as joint custody, in other states. Shared parenting means that both parents spend time with the child, which may or may not be of equal duration, and they make decisions together concerning the child's welfare, such as those involving school, religion and health care. The second is that the court may award sole custody to one parent, making her the child's residential parent and legal custodian. Often, this means that the designated parent provides a home for the child and serves as the sole or final decision-maker. However, the court may allocate decision-making authority to both parents, even if one parent is the child's residential parent.
If you and your spouse wish to have a shared parenting arrangement, either or both of you may submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. Even if you have not requested such an arrangement, the court may ask you to submit a proposal anyway. In this plan, you must detail how you and your spouse will share your parental rights and responsibilities. For example, you will outline the days and times your child will spend with each of you, including vacations, special occasions and holidays; how each of you will financially support your child; where your child will attend school; which parent will provide health and dental insurance for your child and how medical costs will be allocated; and how disagreements will be resolved. If the court finds your plan serves the best interests of your child, it will approve and incorporate it into the divorce decree. If not, the court will return it to you for revision.
Best Interests of the Child
The doctrine of the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration that Ohio courts use when deciding how to allocate parental rights and responsibilities between divorcing parents. To make this determination, the court will evaluate several factors in state law. These factors include the following: the wishes of the parents and child; the child's adjustment to home, school and community; the child's relationship with each parent and siblings; any history of abuse or violence; the physical and emotional health of parents and child; and any other factors the court finds relevant. When shared parenting is a consideration, the court will also evaluate whether the parents are able to cooperate and work together, their geographic proximity to one another, and each parent's willingness and likelihood to encourage the other parent's relationship with the child.
What it Means
Once the court issues your divorce decree, the parental rights and responsibilities assigned to you will be official and legally binding. This means that you must adhere to the terms of the parenting plan, whether designed by you and your spouse or by the court. If the court granted shared rights and responsibilities, both parents are expected to work together in the manner prescribed by the plan, which includes providing a home for your child as well as providing emotional and financial support. If the court designated you to be your child's residential parent in a sole custody arrangement, you are responsible for providing your child's full-time residence. In this case, the court likely awarded your spouse visitation rights, which you must honor. The court also likely ordered him to pay child support. If your former spouse fails to meet his parental obligations, you can take him back to court to enforce the order, or you can seek modification of its terms, if the circumstances have changed substantially.
References & Resources
- Lawriter Ohio Laws and Rules: Ohio Revised Code, Section 3109.04
- Ohio State Bar Association: Sharing Responsibilities After Separation
- Ohio State Bar Association: Ohio Law Guides Parenting Plans in Divorce and Custody Cases
- Morrison & Nicholson: Child Custody Basics for Divorcing Couples
- Ohio Legislative Service Commission: Members Only, Allocating and Modifying Parental Rights and Responsibilities in Ohio
- Law Offices of Dennis P. Levin: Parenting FAQs
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