Going through a divorce can be a painful and stressful experience, especially if you’re negotiating custody of your children. Not only are you sorting through your complex emotions—you’re also worried about how this separation will affect your children. If you and your spouse are taking steps to officially end your marriage, it’s helpful to understand how Ohio determines child custody. As much as possible, the court encourages you and your spouse to try to work out a plan on your own for the best interests of your children. However, if those discussions aren’t productive, the court will eventually hold a trial and establish a clear child custody arrangement that is in the “best interest” of your children, or at least the best interest in the court’s subjective opinion. Let’s take a closer look at how child custody arrangements are determined in Ohio, and what you can expect throughout the process.
Divorcing Couples Are Encouraged to Collaborate
Spouses who can still communicate in a civil and collaborative manner should consider the benefits of working together to create an agreement. Together with their attorneys, the details of custody and visitation schedules can be negotiated and documented. Once an agreement is reached, the Ohio Domestic Relations Court will look it over and if it appears to serve the best interests of the children, the judge will approve it. Usually, the judge will approve an agreement by the parties. If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, each party can file separate motions and parenting plans with the court. A judge will review these plans at a trial and decide which plan best addresses the needs of the child. In general, if the parents can work together, the process is much quicker and efficient.
Breaking Down the Meaning of “Best Interests”
The term “best interests” can seem vague, so what exactly does a court look for when determining how to establish an effective child custody arrangement? Essentially, the court wants to trust that the child will be able to thrive in a secure and nurturing home environment while enjoying opportunities to forge meaningful relationships with both parents. Even if one parent assumes most of the custodial responsibilities, the other parent should be able to visit with the child on a frequent basis. In order to determine whether the parents are capable of nurturing the child, the court will closely examine several key factors, including each parent’s familial relationships, work schedule, general character, and past conduct. If neither parent seems incapable of positively supporting the child, then the court will attempt to establish a balanced custodial arrangement that allows the child to enjoy time with both parents.
Making Child Custody Agreements Official
As much as possible, Ohio courts will strive to establish shared custody, where the parents divide the physical and legal care of the child in a way that works for the family. Bear in mind, “shared” custody means equal decision-making and is a separate and distinct concept from the actual parenting schedule. Parents may have “shared” custody but the particular parenting schedule does not have to be equal. If the court grants sole or primary custody to one parent, the other parent is still encouraged to visit and interact with the child. If the court determines that one parent is unable to provide a safe or stable home environment for the child, or that the parent poses a threat to the child in some way, they may be denied access to the child. In any case, the final agreement is not permanent. At any time, you or your ex can request a modification, especially if new issues or world events arise that would affect the best interests of your child or children.
Above all, having a knowledgeable and experienced family law team on your side is crucial to building a favorable outcome. To learn more about child custody negotiations in the West Chester area, contact the skilled and compassionate divorce and family law attorneys at Garretson & Holcomb, LLC today at (513) 863-6600.