The emotional damage caused by domestic violence can linger well after bruises have faded and physical injuries have healed. The potential effects of domestic violence are even greater when children are involved. In Ohio, a history of domestic violence can change the outcome of a custody case.
Although an abusive parent may not necessarily lose visitation rights, a history of chronic abuse may determine which parent receives primary custody. It may also result in restrictions on the abusive parent's rights. This article provides a general overview of how domestic violence affects child custody orders in Ohio. If you still have questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Central to any custody decision are the best interests or needs of the child. The goal of a custody case is for a judge to determine what type of physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (decision-making authority on the child's behalf) would best serve the child's emotional and physical needs. Although a single episode of domestic violence probably won't result in a parent losing custody rights, a judge will consider either parent's history of abuse in making custody decisions. Learn more about Child Custody in Ohio.
Ohio law defines domestic violence as physical injury, sexual assault, or threats to injure or assault those who are related by blood or marriage, who share a child, or who have lived together as couple in the last five years. Unlike some other states, Ohio's domestic violence law extends to same-sex couples and allows those couples to obtain protective orders in cases of abuse.
Ohio takes domestic violence seriously. If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, it is important to seek help immediately and not put yourself or your child at further risk. Ohio Legal Services provides information on Ohio's domestic violence law and shelter services. If you are in immediate danger, call the Ohio Domestic Violence Network at 1-800-934-9840 during business hours, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-799-7233.
If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, help is available to prevent future abuse. You can apply to a court for a protective order: an order requiring your abuser to stay away from you and your child. A protective order might include other requirements as well (for example, that your abuser vacate your home or pay required child support).
Protective order forms and instructions are available through the Supreme Court of Ohio website. If a judge determines that domestic violence has occurred in your case and it will likely occur in the future, your protective order will be granted. A protective order in Ohio can last up to five years.
While a single incident of domestic violence may not preclude an abusive parent from visiting with his or her child, a history of domestic violence is a factor the court weighs in awarding custody. Ohio judges must consider a parent's history of domestic violence in making a custody decision and ensuring the safest arrangement for the children involved. In cases of chronic or severe domestic violence, limits may be put on an abusive parent's visitation rights. This might include a requirement that visitation be supervised or, in rare cases, a termination of parental rights altogether.
Supervised visitation requires that all visits between an abusive parent and child take place in the presence of a designated third-party adult. This is often a temporary or probationary requirement. If the abusive parent takes certain steps (such as counseling) or can otherwise show a judge that traditional visitation would be in the child's best interests and won't endanger the child, the court may lift a supervised visitation requirement.
Once parental rights are terminated, the decision cannot be reversed. Only in the most severe circumstances are parental rights terminated. Situations that may result in a permanent loss of parent rights include:
A termination of parental rights will occur only in the clearest of cases, after a court has considered all the evidence and determined that it would be in the child's best interests.
If you have additional questions about the effects of domestic violence on custody rights in Ohio, contact a local family law attorney for advice.