Portage County Child Custody Attorneys
Divorce and separation can exact emotional and psychological tolls. To aggravate tensions, disputes may arise about which parent will care for the child, where the child will live and who will decide upon matters affecting the child. These issues also arise when the parents are not married, and either the aims of a father to have custody or a mother to get support are thwarted.
At our firm in Kent, Ohio, we have an experienced and thoughtful legal team to represent your interests in child custody matters at the trial and appellate levels.
What is Child Custody Law?
Child custody law concerns itself with the who and the how of the placement and care of children when the parents do not live with each other. The ultimate aim of lawmakers and judges in creating this law lies in promoting the best interests of the child involved in the custody proceeding. We see it as the guiding force judges use when parents call upon them to award custody, change an existing order or arrangement, prevent moves of the children or resolve other disputes involved in parenting. Below are common types of cases a child custody attorney in Kent, Ohio handles.
Whether formed from the parties’ agreement or a hearing, a court order on child custody or parenting is not truly final for all time. When circumstances change enough to impact the child, a court has the authority to modify its orders. This arises from the court’s power and obligation to safeguard the best interests of the children.
Changes in circumstances may involve the living environment of the children, the parents’ behavior or mental condition, or moves by one or both of the parents. Examples of changes that a child custody lawyer may urge for altering custody, shared parenting or other arrangements include:
- Abuse or neglect of the children
- Presence of criminal activity/li>
- Onset of a debilitating physical or mental illness of the child or custodial parent/li>
- Declining educational performance of the children/li>
To be considered “changed”, the circumstances must not have existed when the original order was entered. This is because a court may not revisit issues decided in a prior hearing or trial. Even when circumstances have sufficiently changed, modifying custody must be in the child’s best interests and welfare.
Interstate Custody Issues
At the outset of a child custody proceeding, at least one parent may live outside of or contemplate moving from Ohio with the child. This raises important questions about whether an Ohio court must or can hear the case. Generally, Ohio courts may decide custody or visitation rights in the first instance if the child lived here at the time of the lawsuit. This home state status also arises if the child lived in Ohio within six months of the custody action being started and was moved out of state, but a parent continues to live in Ohio.
The Uniform Interstate Custody Act impacts whether Ohio courts can exercise jurisdiction. Specifically, if another state’s court has assumed jurisdiction over a case, the Ohio court cannot determine initial custody. However, a Kent, Ohio family lawyer can help you register and enforce an out-of-state order in Ohio if you have moved or are moving your child to the state. We can also help you defend against efforts by the other parent to remove children from the jurisdiction of Ohio courts.
For a parent with custody, also known as the “residential parent,” pulling up stakes is not free of complications or hoops. Ohio law requires you to file a “Notice of Intent to Relocate” if you plan to move with your child away from Ohio or to another place within the state. Unless the other parent agrees, you must ask a court to allow your planned move. Evidence to support such a move includes that of better schools, close proximity to family or relatives who can help you care for the child, better job opportunities for you or your return to school to enhance a career.
If you’re the non-custodial parent, the relocation notice affords you an opportunity to challenge such a move. A child custody attorney seeks to show the court that the move exposes the child to less favorable schools, interferes significantly with your ability to visit and is otherwise not undertaken in good faith.
The establishment of paternity is an essential part of a child custody and child support case. If you’re married to the mother of the child at the time of the child’s birth, Ohio law presumes you are the father.
An unmarried mother in Ohio automatically obtains custody of her child at birth. A father seeking custody must first establish that he in fact is the child’s father. Evidence of paternity including genetic tests, blood tests, other medical evidence or proof of sexual activity with the mother around the time of conception. Once the father obtains a ruling of paternity or admission, the father may pursue claims that it is in the child’s best interest that the father have custody or serve as the residential parent. Mothers may need to establish a putative father’s paternity in order to obtain child support from the father.
Parties dissatisfied with custody orders may seek reversal from the Ohio Court of Appeals or Ohio Supreme Court.
The appellate courts have a different and generally more limited function than the trial courts. To overturn a trial court’s custody ruling, the appellate court must find that the trial judge misinterpreted or misapplied the law, did not have sufficient evidence to make particular factual findings or legal conclusions, or acted unfairly or arbitrarily in deciding your case. The appellate judges examine the record of the trial court proceedings. This record consists of the pleadings, transcripts and exhibits. In an appeal, you do not get to present new witnesses, exhibits or other evidence.
Our appellate courts have strict deadlines and rules for assembling the record of the trial proceedings and preparing briefs to present the legal arguments. With all that is involved in an appeal, you would benefit from the skill and resources of a child custody lawyer that handles appeals in custody and paternity cases. We also represent parties who need to have a favorable custody ruling upheld by the appellate court.
How Do Ohio Courts Decide What is the Best Interest of the Child?
What constitutes the best interest of the child is fact-specific and fact-intensive. Judges in Ohio consider many factors such as these provided by statute:
- The parents’ wishes concerning the child’s care
- The child’s wishes, which a judge may learn through an in-chambers conference or statements in court
- How the child adjusts to a school, home or community where the parent lives or is to live
- How the child interacts with and relates to parents, brothers, sisters and others who may be around the child regularly
- Which parent demonstrates to the court a greater likelihood of honoring the custody, visitation and companionship rights of the other parent established by the court
- Whether a parent has interfered with the visitation or custody rights of the other parent
- Whether a parent has failed to pay child support
- Criminal records of the parents and those in the parents’ household
In helping you show that the custody or visitation arrangements you seek are in the child’s best interests, we will examine a number of facts about the children, parents and those who may be around the children. The information may come from report cards, other school records, criminal histories, teachers, friends and acquaintances and others who have witnessed the child, parents or those who are around the child.
You can help your custody case with photographs and videos of your residence or that of the other parent. In preparing your case, a child custody lawyer may send requests for images and documents that might reveal risks to the safety of the child. These problems may include structural problems, faulty plumbing or electrical systems, inadequate security or even close proximity to busy roads where even momentary inattentiveness can prove tragic for the child.
What Are Child Custody Evaluations?
A judge normally will order a custody evaluation when custody is disputed. Parenting experts have a number of tools with which to recommend a particular custodial, visitation or parenting arrangement or issues such as relocation of the child. The consultant will interview both parents, visit the homes, observe how you act with and around the child and perform psychological exams on you, the children or others in the home. We can advise you about how to approach your meetings with the evaluator and other issues involved with a custody evaluation.
Based in Kent, Ohio, our firm represents fathers and mothers in child custody determinations, modifications and appeals. We offer sound, compassionate legal advice and advocacy as you attempt to pursue the best interests of your child and preserve important relationships with your children. Contact us if you have been sued for custody or support or are undergoing a divorce or separation.