Child Custody in Ohio: The Best Interests of the Child

Ohio uses the "best interests" standard to determine who gets custody of the children. Here's how it works.

Divorce is painful and difficult, and for some couples one of the most difficult parts is deciding how parents will share custody of their children. If divorcing parents aren’t able to agree on how to share responsibilities regarding their children, they must turn to the courts for a custody decision.

How Ohio Courts Decide Custody

As in most other states, in Ohio the best interests of the child are the most important consideration in a custody decision. (R.C. § 3109.04(F)(1).) Ohio law determines what the best interests of a child are by requiring courts to examine all relevant factors.

Ohio law regards the wishes of both parents and children in custody decisions. A judge will consider what each parent wants for their child’s care. If the court determines that a child is old enough and has sufficient “reasoning ability,” then the judge will interview the child in the judge’s chambers (office) to consider the child’s wishes as well.

Courts will look at how a child interacts with the parent and any siblings. Judges don’t like to break up siblings or otherwise cause fractured relationships with family members, so they prefer custody arrangements that are supportive of healthy family interactions and continuity. The court will also consider how well a child might adjust to a changed living arrangement, as well as the physical and mental health of both parents and children.

The actions of the parents are also important. Courts are appreciative of parents who have demonstrated respect for past custody decisions and for the other parent’s relationship with the child. Additionally, a parent who has consistently fulfilled child support obligations will be looked upon more favorably than a parent who has failed to provide support for their child.

The court will take into account any sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and whether any abuse was committed by extended family member, and will make custody decisions based on protecting the child from any further abuse.

Ohio law does not prefer one parent over another based on financial status alone.

Shared Parenting and the Best Interests of the Child

In order for courts to grant joint custody, known as shared parenting in Ohio, several additional factors will be evaluated, including how well the parents cooperate and each parent’s willingness  to encourage the child to maintain a strong relationship with the other parent.  

There are also practical considerations, including how close the parents live to each other. The greater the distance between the parents, the more likely it will be difficult for a shared parenting arrangement to work.

Finally, if the child’s legal rights are being protected by a court-appointed guardian, known as a guardian ad litem, then the judge will consider the guardian ad litem’s recommendations regarding shared parenting.

Ideally, divorcing parents would agree on a workable custody arrangement themselves. Whether the parents agree or the court ultimately decides, child custody decisions will be based on the child’s best interests.

To learn more, please see Ohio Parental Rights and Shared Parenting FAQs.

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