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Initial Filing Fee: $100-$150

Ohio law states that when a child is born, custody automatically goes to the mother in all cases. If the mother is married to the father, then the custody is shared between the two of them. If the mother is unmarried, however, the custody remains with the mother alone and the father must apply for joint custody of the child. Grandparents are allowed to act as guardians in place of a minor child who has a child of their own, i.e. in the interest of their grandchild. They are not, however, allowed to take full custody, as such rights remain with the parents, unless adoption proceedings are taken. When determining parental responsibilities and rights, the court takes into consideration these factors:

 • The wishes of the child
 • The wishes of the child’s parents regarding the child’s care
 • The child’s interaction and interrelationship with the child’s parents, siblings, and any other     person who may affect the child’s best interest
 • The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community
 • The mental and physical health of all involved
 • The parent more likely to adhere to court-appointed parenting time rights or visitation and    companion rights
 • Whether either parent has been convicted or plead guilty to a criminal offense that led to    the child being abused or neglected
 • Whether either parent has, or is planning on, establishing residence outside of the state

In general, Ohio tries to provide at least some form of joint custody to parents, though in extreme or violent cases they will award sole custody to one parent. Additionally, for joint custody, or shared parenting as it is known in the state, to be possible there must be proof that both parents are responsible, can provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child. In the case of a Native American child, the court’s decisions will also take into account the provisions set out in the Indian Child Welfare Act. As child custody concerns the welfare of a minor, it is usually in the best interest of any plaintiff or respondent to engage the aid of a lawyer or advocate, as child custody disputes are quite complicated and a simple mistake could result in a loss of custody.

Step 1: Establish Jurisdiction

In order to file for custody of a child in Ohio, the child needs to have resided in the state for at least six months prior to the time that the request for custody is filed, or resided in the state for at least six months recently while one parent remained in the state. Alternatively, the custody decision may be made in Ohio if the child and at least one parent have a significant connection to the state; substantial evidence is available in the state regarding the child’s care, personal relationships, and protection; or any other courts with jurisdiction over the case decline to exercise a judgment on the grounds that the court in Ohio is a more appropriate forum.

Ohio Code Governing the Jurisdiction of a Child Custody Case

Step 2: Establish Relation to the Child

When a child is born in Ohio the mother is automatically awarded custody. If the father is married to the mother, then he too receives custody. Additionally, the father can establish custody by marrying the mother within 300 days of the date of conception. Otherwise, the father will need to apply for custody of the child by filling out and submitting an Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit. This form is only available through official agencies, such as the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, the local health department, or a Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). If the mother disputes the father’s claim to paternity, then the Juvenile Court is sanctioned to genetically test the father to verify whether they are or are not related to the child.

Information from the Ohio Department of Health Concerning the Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit

Step 3: Fill Out and Submit Custody Complaint

If either parent would like to file for custody or dispute the current custody of their child, then they need to fill out a Custody Complaint form and file it with a clerk of the Juvenile Court. This form initiates proceedings. The person filing the complaint can then move to establish a hearing date, at which time the case will be heard by a judge. These forms are available on individual county websites or at a county’s courthouse.

Example of a Custody Complaint Form for Pike County
Search Engine for Ohio County Courthouse Sites and Forms

Step 4: Serve the Respondent

Once the complaint has been filed, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to ensure that the respondent receives a copy of the complaint. This can be done in any of the following methods:

 • Ordinary Mail
 • Certified Mail
 • Personal Service
 • Residence Service

In the case of personal or residence service, the plaintiff should employ an authorized individual to take care of the service. Additionally, in extraordinary cases wherein the respondent cannot be found or located, the court can allow the plaintiff to serve the respondent by publication, such as in a newspaper. Along with the complaint, the plaintiff must also fill out a form verifying the form of service they have utilized, which is then filed with the court as well.

Example of Instructions for Service Form for Cuyahoga County

Step 5: Hearing

Once the date for the hearing arrives, the court will question anyone that they feel has had direct involvement in the care or custody of the child, whom they can require to attend the hearing as long as the person resides within the state. If for some reason it is found that the court does not have jurisdiction to determine child custody, such as when none of the requirements of Step 1 are met, then they can issue a temporary order enforcing parenting time (also known as a visitation schedule).

Step 6: Custody Order and Support

At the conclusion of the hearing the judge will render a decision and an appropriate custody order will be issued detailing the specifics of the decision. Additionally, at this time the judge will also work with both parties to determine what monetary support either party must provide for the child, which will then become an integral part of the custody order.

Step 7: Enforcing the Custody Order

If either parent violates the arrangement for parenting time and/or support as outlined in the custody order then the other parent may seek a contempt of court action against that parent. The plaintiff may contact law enforcement in extreme situations to enforce the child custody order, such as when there is the potential for abuse or when abuse has already taken place. Otherwise, the issue will be taken up in the Court of Civil Proceedings. It is important to note here that any actions taken in direct contradiction to the Custody Order can and will be taken into consideration in future custody battles.

Additional Resources

Ohio Code Governing the Custody of Children
Grandparent Visitation Rights in Ohio

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