If you are ending your marriage or suing for custody of a child born outside of marriage, you should know about Ohio’s guidelines for determining court-ordered custody and parenting time arrangements. It is wise to proceed very carefully with advice from a family law attorney when dealing with these issues.
Q: My wife and I are divorcing in Ohio. How will the court determine which of us will have custody of our children?
A: Ohio recognizes two custodial arrangements: sole custody and shared parenting. The difference between the two is the decision-making rights of the parents. In a sole custody arrangement, one parent makes final decisions for the children in matters such as education, major medical care, religious upbringing and extracurricular activities. In a shared parenting situation, both parents have the same legal right to make final decisions for the children.
Many Ohio courts begin by presuming that most cases will result in shared parenting, where both parents are actively involved in making major decisions for their children, particularly if the children are older or if the parents made joint decisions about the children before divorce or custody litigation.
Ohio law says that a court must look at the “best interests of the children” to determine whether sole custody or shared parenting is appropriate. The court takes into consideration many factors. Some are: 1) the wishes of each parent and the children; 2) how comfortable the children are in each parent’s home, school or community; 3) whether one parent has withheld the children from the other parent; 4) whether the parents have difficulty communicating about decisions affecting the children; 5) the mental and physical health of the parents and the children; 6) whether one parent is planning to move (especially if the move is far away or out of state); and 7) the recommendation of a guardian ad litem involved in the case.
Q: What are our options for setting a parenting time schedules?
A: In addition to determining whether parents should make joint decisions regarding their children, Ohio courts also must determine when both parents will see their children (called “parenting time”). Most Ohio courts have a “model visitation or companionship schedule” that suggests a parenting time arrangement. According to such a schedule, the children will live primarily with one parent and see the other parent every other weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening as well as one additional evening each week (usually Wednesday) for dinner. This “model visitation schedule” may actually be a “bare minimum” schedule that parents might expect the court to set if the custody case proceeds to trial.
Parents often depart from this model and agree to tailor the parenting time schedule around their particular family’s needs. For instance, some parents may agree to an alternating week schedule where the children spend one week from Friday to the following Friday with one parent, and then live with the other parent the following week. Research suggests it is better for young children to see both parents more frequently during the week, so some parents of young children may decide to follow a schedule where the children go from one home to the other every two to three days (including alternating weekends). Such a schedule may also work well when both parents work.
Regardless of the parenting time schedule, both parents can attend school events and their children’s extracurricular activities. These occasions provide additional time for parents to have contact with their children and support their children’s interests.
Q: Where will our children go to school?
A: In Ohio, a shared parenting plan must state who will be the “residential parent for school placement purposes.” If your children attend public school, they will attend school in the portion of the district where the “residential parent for school placement” lives.
In a sole custody situation, the sole custodian automatically is also the “residential parent for school placement purposes.” In a shared parenting arrangement, each parent can be a “residential parent for school placement,” so long as both live in the same section of the school district. If parents who share parenting responsibilities live in different school districts, or in different portions of a school district (corresponding with different elementary, middle or high schools), then one parent must be selected as the “residential parent for school placement.”
If the children attend private school, the residential parent designation is not as important, unless the children will stop attending private school in the foreseeable future.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorneys Scott N. Friedman and Elizabeth Johnson, both of Friedman & Mirman Co., L.P.A. in Columbus. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. For information about a variety of legal topics, visit the OSBA website at www.ohiobar.org. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.