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A form titled "Petition for Child Custody"

Understanding Custody Determination in Ohio

Defining Custody

Child custody is a hot-button issue in many divorces. When making a custody determination, the Court must determine what is in the best interest of the child at issue. While the principle is the same, Ohio law now uses the phrase “parental rights and responsibilities” to refer to what is commonly called “custody.” There are two main types of allocations of parental rights and responsibilities that are determined in court, as well as several factors that a Court considers when making these decisions.

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Types of Custody in Ohio

Ohio recognizes two primary types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to which parent the child in question lives with, while legal custody refers to the ability of a parent to make decisions on behalf of the child such as medical decisions or school choice.

  • Physical Custody - Since physical custody refers to where the child resides, it can be either sole or shared. If one parent is assigned physical custody and the other is given parenting time rights, then the custodial parent has sole physical custody of the child. If the child alternates residing with both parents, then the parents share physical custody.
  • Legal Custody - Legal custody between parents can be either sole or shared. If legal custody is shared, it means that both parents together have the authority to make decisions for their child with respect to medical care, religion, and education. This is often referred to as “shared parenting.” If one parent is designated as the sole legal custodian of a child, that parent has sole decision-making authority for the previously referenced decisions.

Judges will often grant shared parenting, allowing both parents to have the ability to make decisions on behalf of the child. It is rare that one parent is not given legal custody, but circumstances such as the level of involvement or parental behavior can lead to this type of arrangement.

Sole Custody vs. Shared Parenting

  • Sole Custody - The majority of people have a general understanding of sole custody. When sole custody is granted, only one parent is allowed to make decisions for the child, such as his or her medical care or where he/she will go to school. Parenting time with the child(ren) is generally granted to the other parent, unless there is a compelling reason to deny it.
  • Shared Parenting - The child's legal guardian is designated to be both parents in shared parenting. A court may grant shared-parenting rights and responsibilities to a parent or both parents. Upon request, the parent making the request must submit a proposed plan that addresses all factors relevant to the care of the child, such as physical living arrangements (parenting time schedule), child support, and medical decisions. A shared parenting plan usually provides that the parties communicate and agree on major decisions affecting the children, collaborate to co-parent, and generally encourage the child (children) and the other parent to have a good relationship. Both parents may then be designated as residential parents or legal guardians of the child(ren) and the Shared Parenting Plan may be adopted as a court order.

Factors Contributing to Custody Decisions

Custody determinations are an integral part of the divorce process. The judge will listen to arguments for custody and consider several factors in his or her ultimate decision:

  • Each parent’s physical and mental well-being is important to consider. If one parent is not well, either physically or mentally, that can help the judge make a decision.

  • If the child has siblings that are also under custody consideration, the judge is more likely to keep the children together rather than divide them between the parents.

  • The court is likely to look favorably on a parent that presents himself or herself well in court. Acting and dressing respectably go a long way.

  • The judge will look at the child’s relationship with each parent and the parents’ involvement in the life of the child.

  • The judge will also examine each parent’s ability to provide for the child physically, emotionally, and mentally.

  • The child’s school location and similar minor factors are also considered.

  • Ultimately, the number one factor is always what is in the best interest of the child. While the other factors are important and make an impact on the judge’s decision, he or she will ultimately consider what will be of greater benefit to the child.

Parenting Time

After custody is determined, depending on if the custody arrangement calls for sole or shared custody, the nonresidential and/or noncustodial parent may be granted “parenting time” (previously referred to as “visitation”) with the child, giving him or her the right to see the child in accordance with a set schedule. This schedule will vary depending on the custody agreement, location of the parents from one another, and a parent’s level of desired involvement in the child’s life.


Ohio law states that child custody arrangements end when the child turns 18 years old. A judge is only likely to grant the modification request if 1) a custodial parent and/or the child has experienced a substantial change in circumstances and 2) if the change would be in the best interests of the child.

Hire an Experienced Attorney

If you are divorcing and are aiming for a specific custody arrangement that benefits you, hiring an attorney well-versed in child custody laws will help you achieve that goal.

Laubacher & Co. will handle your custody case and work to obtain results. Call today at (440) 336-8687 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.