The Ohio Legislature has gotten rid of the term “custody”. Instead, when Ohio parents separate or divorce, a court will "allocate the parental rights and responsibilities” between parents according to a child’s best interests.
There are two main types of custody in Ohio – parenting time and decision making responsibilities (called “physical and legal custody” in some states). An Ohio custody order will spell out each parent’s right to make decisions for the child and a parenting time schedule.
A court may grant one parent primary residential time and rights over the child. A parent with sole decision-making powers and parenting rights is called the “residential parent” in Ohio. The other parent will still be entitled to regular time with the child, likely one weeknight per week and every other weekend.
When parents don’t share decision-making responsibilities, one parent will decide things like where the child attends school and the child’s religious upbringing without input from the other parent.
Alternatively, the court may allocate the parental rights and responsibilities to both parents and issue a "shared parenting" order. This type of order requires the parents to share all or some of the physical and legal care of the children in accordance with an approved plan for shared parenting.
In a shared parenting situation, both parents, regardless of where the child is physically located or with whom the child is residing at a particular point in time, are considered the "residential parent," the "residential parent and legal custodian," or the "custodial parent" of the child.
"Shared parenting" is the Ohio term used for what many other states refer to as "joint custody." Shared parenting or joint custody in Ohio is where both parents share some or all or some of the aspects of the physical and legal care of the children.
It does not necessarily mean an equal, 50/50 division of time with the children, child support, or any other issues. However, in a shared parenting situation in Ohio, both parents will spend a substantial amount of time with their children and have an active role in the child’s upbringing.
A child’s needs or best interests are at the heart of any custody decision. To determine the best interests of a child, family law courts in Ohio don't have to consider any set criteria. Instead, a judge will look at the child’s overall living situation, relationships, and any other factor that impacts the child’s needs and well-being. These include, but aren't limited to:
To help make these determinations, a judge may also appoint a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem to interview the child and each parent regarding family relations, the parents’ past conduct, work history, and overall stability.
A parent’s history of domestic violence will make it very difficult for that person to receive custody. See Ohio Code § 3109.04 (2020). In certain cases, the court may also order the parents and their minor children to submit to medical, psychological, and psychiatric examinations.
Either parent can ask the court to grant a shared parenting arrangement. The requesting parent must submit a proposed shared parenting plan that includes proposed provisions covering all factors that are relevant to the care of the children, including, but not limited to physical living arrangements, child support obligations, medical and dental care, school placement, and where the child will stay during legal and school holidays, and other days of special importance.
A judge court can also require the parent not requesting shared parenting to submit a proposed parenting plan. If both parents agree on shared parenting, the parents can submit a joint shared parenting plan to the court for approval.
In either situation, the court will review the proposed plans and determine whether shared parenting is in the best interests of the couple’s child(ren). A judge can accept a parent’s parenting plan as is, or the judge can modify the plan to best serve the child’s needs.
When determining whether shared parenting is in the best interests of the child(ren), the court will consider the best interests factors listed above, as well as:
Split custody is different from shared custody. In a split custody arrangement each parent will primarily live with one or more of the children. For example, one parent might be the primary residential parent for a set of twins, while the other parent serves as primary residential parent for a daughter. Like any other parental time arrangement, both parents are entitled to parenting time or visitation with their other children.
Either parent can file a request to modify a prior order allocating parental rights and responsibilities, but a judge won’t grant the modification unless there’s been a material change in circumstances impacting the child’s well-being.
In other words, even if the parents have experienced a major life change like a remarriage or new job, a judge won’t modify parenting time or parental rights unless the change is necessarily for to serve the best interests of the child. Even when adjusting parenting time, typically a court will keep the residential parent the same unless one of the following is true:
A judge will hold a court hearing to review evidence and hear testimony from witnesses. If the judge feels that a change serves your child’s best interests, he or she will modify your order accordingly.