Joint Custody Laws in Ohio

By Heather Frances J.D.

Parents fighting

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When parents divorce, many prefer to arrange for joint custody of the children when possible. In Ohio, this is officially called “shared parenting,” but many of Ohio’s shared parenting guidelines are similar to other states’ joint custody laws. Ohio’s laws were rewritten in 1991 to allow the court to order shared parenting even if one parent objects to the arrangement.

Shared Parenting

An Ohio court can either give parental rights and responsibilities of the child to one parent – called the "sole residential parent and legal custodian" – or give the rights and responsibilities to both parents – called "shared parenting." However, shared parenting doesn’t necessarily mean both parents have equal time with the child. For example, a shared parenting plan could divide time such that one parent has alternating weekends and a few weekday evenings. Since both parents share the rights and responsibilities of the child’s care, this is still a shared parenting arrangement.

Parenting Plan

Ohio requires at least one parent to submit a shared parenting plan before the court will order shared parenting. The shared parenting plan must include plans for all aspects of the child’s care, including division of time, medical and dental care, school arrangements, and child support. If neither parent requests shared parenting, the court can order the parents to submit a proposed parenting plan and will consider the parents’ submissions before issuing a decision.

Best Interests

Ohio courts consider the best interests of the child – not the parents – when determining custody arrangements. To decide what is in the child’s best interests, the court considers many factors, including the wishes of the parents and child; the child’s interaction with parents, siblings and others; the child’s adjustment to his community; and the mental and physical health of everyone involved. The court also considers which parent is more likely to honor the parenting plan, any wrongdoing by either parent and whether a parent is likely to move out of state. If the court intends to order shared parenting, it must also consider the ability of the parents to cooperate and encourage the child's relationship with one another, any history of domestic violence, and the geographic proximity of the parents to each other.

Court Process

The court may consider the opinions of other professionals when making its decision; for example, the court might order an investigation into the character and finances of the parents. It can also require the parents and child to complete physical and mental exams. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem: a professional whose purpose is to look out for the child’s best interests and communicate with the court for the child. If a guardian ad litem is appointed, the court must consider his recommendation before deciding whether to grant a shared parenting plan.