Columbus Child Custody AttorneysChild custody and visitation issues usually arise in Ohio in 3 different circumstances: (1) trying to establish legally enforceable child custody and visitation rights for children that were born to unmarried parents; (2) trying to establish a parent's child custody and visitation rights during a divorce; and (3) trying to change or modify child custody and visitation rights that were previously established through a divorce and incorporated into a court order. The child custody lawyers at Harris & Engler help clients with child custody and visitation issues for any of the above circumstances. The law firm of Harris & Engler is located in Columbus, Ohio, and its attorneys help with child custody issues all across Central Ohio.
If you are trying to establish legally enforceable custody and visitation rights for children born to unmarried parents, then it is only the father of the children that has to go through the court process to establish those rights. Basically, for children born to unmarried parents, the mother automatically has 100% full custody and visitation rights to the child and the father has 0% rights. The father has to go through the court process to establish custody and visitation rights and you can read more about that process and about how to establish paternity here.
Grandparents and other relatives can also petition the court to request visitation rights to the children of unmarried parents. Grandparents and other relatives can only petition for visitation rights for children of unmarried parents - not children of married parents - and you can read more about that process here.
If you've already gotten a court order for custody or visitation of your children and you want to change that order, then you've got to file a motion with the court either asking the court to modify the order or terminate it and issue a new order. You can read more about how to modify or terminate an existing child custody or shared parenting order here.
For all other child custody issues in Ohio, they are usually resolved through the divorce or dissolution process.
Custody Issues During Divorce in OhioGenerally, there are three options for parents to determine child custody arrangements: (1) come up with a unique agreement amongst yourselves (usually some form of shared parenting); (2) seek sole custody; or (3) seek shared parenting of your children.
If you are fighting for your custody rights during a divorce, then there is a spectrum of possibilities on the possible outcomes and possible legal expenses depending on how things go. If you and your spouse are agreeable to the point to where you think you can agree on all the custody and visitation issues and that you can have an attorney draft a parenting plan that simply incorporates your wishes (as well as incorporates all the other legally required language and perhaps a few other aspects that you may not immediately think of, such as allocation of the child tax exemption between the parents), and you can otherwise agree on how to split the marital property, then you might be able to accomplish that process through a dissolution instead of a divorce. A dissolution and a divorce accomplish the same objective - splitting the marital property, allocating parental rights and responsibilities, and terminating the marriage - but they are done differently. With a dissolution, all the documents that are needed for the termination of divorce are prepared, agreed upon, and signed before filing anything with the court. Then once the documents are prepared, you file, and then a hearing is usually scheduled within 2 - 3 months to have a final hearing and formalize the agreement terminating the marriage. A dissolution requires the spouses to agree on every single issue. This is usually negotiated out by attorneys on both sides, but it is usually an overall cheaper and quicker process than going through a divorce. However, if there are sticking points to where you just can't agree with your spouse, then you've got to move forward with a divorce instead of a dissolution.
With a divorce, one side files the divorce, then the division of property and parenting rights and responsibilities are figured out along the way. Most parents with a divorce are able to eventually come to a negotiated agreement amongst themselves (and their attorneys) about all the division of property and child custody and visitation issues. A divorce can be resolved from anywhere between 6 months after filing the complaint for divorce to around 2 years or so. The duration really depends on whether or not an agreement is reached along the way or not. If an agreement is never reached, then that means that you have to have a trial, submit all the disputed issues to the Judge, and have the Judge decide the outcome. In that scenario, then the divorce process takes on the long end of around 2 years or so. There are plenty of possibilities inbetween.
Seeking Sole Custody v. Shared Parenting in Ohio
If the issue of contention is that one or both parents wants sole custody instead of shared parenting, then that is usually where the legal process takes a bit longer. First, it is important to understand the difference in some legal terms. Child Custody in Ohio simply refers to the legal decision making power and authority of each parent with respect to the children. This means the power to make decisions for things like medical care, psychiatric care, extra-curricular activities, religious instruction, or any other type of legal authority that a parent has over a child for what that child is and is not allowed to do. Sole Custody is when only one parent has that legal decision making power. Shared Parenting is when both parents share in that legal decision making power.
Shared Parenting rights can be structured in a number of different ways, to a certain extent it is simply up to what each individual parent wants to have decision making power over and the creativity of the attorneys involved. The parents can share custody (legal decision making power) over everything, right down the middle for the children. However, if it is likely that this would result in a lot of stalemates with few actual agreements between the parents, then alternative decision making arrangements can be made. For example, you could have a shared parenting plan where all the issues have to be discussed between the parents beforehand and only if the parents cannot agree, then maybe the final decision goes to one parent or the other. You can have the final decision go to one parent or the other for certain items, like Parent A gets the final decision on extra-curricular activities, and Parent B gets the final decision on religious instruction. You could have the parents be required to discuss all the issues and if they can't agree then they have to mediate the disputed issue and the mediator gets to decide. In a lot of cases the overall dispute about the decision ends up being around the cost of that decision (like for certain extra-curricular activities, enrollment in private school, summer camp, et cetera). For this you could structure a Shared Parenting Plan to say that if there is a disagreement on enrollment in a specific activity, and the activity costs over $X.XX, then the parent that wants the activity has to pay for it. You could have one parent being able to make all the decisions that would have a net cost effect of under $1,000.00, and the other parent getting the final say on everything costing over that amount. The actual agreement can be creative and it can be specifically catered towards your exact wants and needs. You simply need a child custody attorney willing to walk you through those options and you need an ex-spouse willing to discuss those options.
If you cannot reach an agreement, then you have to go further down the spectrum of possibilities, which ends of costing a bit more. When there is a disagreement about child custody or visitation time and the parents have tried but failed to reach their own agreement, then the usual next step is for one parent to apply to the court and ask the court to appoint what is called a "Guardian Ad Litem." The court can also appoint a Guardian Ad Litem on its own, and the court usually always does appoint a Guardian Ad Litem on its own if the parents can't work out their own agreement. You can read more about what a Guardian Ad Litem is, and what they do here. In General, a Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney appointed to represent the children in the custody case. The Guardian Ad Litem interviews both parents, looks at their living situations, interviews the children and anyone else who may be of interest, and then the Guardian Ad Litem comes up with their own idea of a parenting plan and visitation rights based on what they believe to be in the best interest of the children. The Guardian Ad Litem then tells the Judge what they think and the Judge usually values the Guardian Ad Litem's opinion very highly on the matter. This process costs more money for the parents involved because both parties have to split the cost of the Guardian Ad Litem. This makes it so you may be paying the legal fees for one and a half attorneys.
Going further down the spectrum of possibilities, if after the involvement of the Guardian Ad Litem the parents still cannot reach an agreement on custody and visitation issues, then the matter has to go to trial. This is where the legal fees get the most expensive because it is a very time consuming process for an attorney to prepare for and participate in a trial. That, and if you've gotten that far, you likely want your attorney to be putting the time necessary into your case to get you the best result possible. If you go to trial, then the Judge will hear everything from all sides on the matter, including both parents, the Guardian Ad Litem, and any other witnesses who may have relevant testimony or evidence.
Can The Judge Just Ask My Children What They Want For Custody and Visitation?The short answer is yes, but to every extent possible your children should be insulated from the legal proceedings as much as possible and this should only be an absolute last resort. Divorce is hard on parents, but perhaps even harder on kids. One of the first things that a Judge will tell you in a divorce with contested child custody issues is that neither parent should be speaking with their children about the divorce case. Surely the children probably know that something is going on, but they should not be a sounding board for any negativity or about the divorce process. There is a procedure in Ohio law where you can ask the Judge to interview the children about their wishes with regard to custody and visitation. This is called filing a motion for an In Camera Interview. In Camera does not mean what it sounds like, there is no recorded interview. In Camera is old Latin for "in chambers." It basically means that the Judge will schedule a time to interview the children privately in their chambers, perhaps with the presence of the Guardian Ad Litem, and with a more remote possibility of the attorneys for each side also being present. Judges do not like to do In Camera interviews because of the possibility that it could be a traumatic experience for the children having to go to court and "pick sides." However, under Ohio law, when one party has requested an In Camera Interview, the law requires that the interview take place. That means that the Judge has no choice but to do the interview. However, what ends up happening most of the time is that the In Camera interview is usually scheduled for after the trial takes place. This way, the Judge might be able to decide the contested issues without having to interview the child.
In general, the older the children are in Ohio, the more they get to choose their own destiny of where they stay. However, that kind of thing should remain an adult decision so as to protect the children as much as possible.
Residential Parent For School Placement Purposes In OhioAnother term that gets used in every divorce or dissolution with children in Ohio is the designation of a "Residential Parent For School Place Purposes." This is simple. It is simply selecting which school district the children go to. Generally, the parent that lives in the best school district should be selected so that the children go to the best schools possible. However, this can be changed so that one parent is designated as the residential parent for school placement purposes so long as they remain in a particular school district, and if they move, then the designation can also move to the parent who then lives in the best school district.
Parenting Time and Child Visitation IssuesParenting time is one of the most important issues because this dictates exactly how much time each parent has with the children. Parenting time is different from child custody and parenting time basically lays out a schedule for when each parent is with the children. Parenting time has more to do with the calculation of child support than the custody determination. For example, if the parents split visitation time 50/50, then it is more likely that there will be a lower child support payment or no child support payment. However, it would not make sense to split visitation 50/50 and have one parent have sole custody. You can read more about parenting time issues here.
Post-Decree Child Custody IssuesWhile most child custody issues initially arise as a result of getting a divorce or dissolution, sometimes these issues do not arise until you have already been divorced (that is, you are having post-divorce decree child custody issues). People have Post- Divorce or Dissolution Decree issues for multiple reasons: (1) you might have had a bad shared parenting plan to begin with; (2) circumstances might have changed since you originally got divorced; (3) there might be other unique reasons why you are seeking to change your rights with regard to custody of your children.
Parents usually find out within a few years if the parenting plan that they entered into was a bad or unworkable plan. This happens because either the plan was not designed for your circumstances, you did not really understand the plan when it was entered into, or circumstances have changed since you entered the plan and you need a new plan to accomodate your current circumstances. If you want to change your parenting plan then you've got to file a motion to do so with the court, and then you may ultimately end up having a trial on the issue. The attorneys at Harris & Engler can help you with all aspects of your child custody problem and they would be happy to assist you. You can call an attorney to discuss your concerns about child custody either before the divorce is finalized or in order to try to modify your shared parenting plan post-divorce decree.