Ohio courts typically split custody between divorcing parents in a manner they feel is best for the children. Though courts can award sole custody, thereby giving legal rights to one parent over the other, parents without custody do not automatically lose parental rights. Instead, Ohio requires a separate process to take away a parent’s rights completely.
Nature of Parental Rights
The Supreme Court of Ohio — and other courts nationwide — recognize that parents have an interest in the care, custody and management of their children. This right is constitutionally protected, meaning a parent’s rights are basic and essential. This gives these rights higher protection than many other types of privileges. However, a parent’s rights are not absolute, and they can be modified if the child’s welfare is at risk or if a parent voluntarily gives up his rights.
When a biological parent permits his child to be adopted by a stepparent, he is voluntarily giving up his own parental rights. If a biological parent does not wish to give up his rights voluntarily, he can be absolved of his rights involuntarily through a contested proceeding if evidence shows he is an unfit parent. Even if a parent is absolved of his parental rights — voluntarily or involuntarily — he is still responsible for providing financial support for the child. If the child is adopted by a stepparent, the biological parent’s legal obligation to pay child support ends when the stepparent adoption becomes final.
Involuntary Removal of Rights
If the custodial parent wants to terminate the noncustodial parent’s parental rights, she must file a motion in the Ohio court serving the area where the child lives and describe the reasons she feels the noncustodial biological parent’s rights should end. The custodial parent must serve the noncustodial parent with a copy of the motion. If he does not agree to a termination of his rights, he can contest the case. Typically, this means the judge will hold a hearing where both parents can testify about whether the noncustodial parent’s rights should be removed. Both sides can bring evidence and witnesses to the hearing.
If the noncustodial parent is willing to relinquish his parental rights so the spouse of the custodial parent can adopt the child, the stepparent can begin the process by filing a Petition for Adoption. This requires basic information about the child and stepparent along with their circumstances. Like a motion to terminate parental rights, the adoption petition must be served on the noncustodial biological parent. Typically, both biological parents must also consent to the adoption because it is in the best interests of the child. However, the noncustodial biological parent’s consent may not be required under certain circumstances, such as when the parent failed to communicate with the child or financially support the child for at least a year.