Child custody can be the most emotional part of dissolving a marriage. Dividing your assets is one thing. Dividing custody of your children is quite another, but thousands of couples face that challenge every year. In 2019, more than 32,000 couples divorced in Ohio, involving nearly 25,000 minor children.
Maybe you are thinking about getting a divorce and don’t know what to expect in negotiating child custody issues, or maybe you are already divorced and have an existing agreement you want to change. Either way, you need to consult with a family law attorney for advice about such a critical aspect of your life.
For more than 50 years, our attorneys at Peterson & Peterson, LLC have been helping clients in Xenia, Beavercreek, Bellbrook, and the surrounding Ohio communities navigate child custody issues. Let us put our knowledge and experience to work for you.
Child custody agreements are detailed plans covering issues such as parenting time, visitation, and financial support. Under Ohio law, “custody” means “allocating parental rights and responsibilities for the care of children.”
There are two options divorcing parents can take to reach an arrangement:
You and your spouse can agree on the terms of child custody and present that agreement to the court for approval. Although this is the fastest, least expensive, and less painful option, advice from an experienced attorney can help you keep the conversation productive and on track.
If you and your spouse cannot agree to terms, you’ll take your case to court, and the judge will gather information and construct a child custody agreement. Even though the judge takes the lead in this situation, your attorney can help you present your views on establishing what you believe is an arrangement that is in the best interest of your children.
There are two types of custody. The parent awarded decision-making rights, called “legal custody” in most states, makes decisions such as where children will attend school and what doctors they will see.
Parenting time involves the “physical custody” of a child. Parenting time is typically awarded to both parents; however, the parent who lives with the child most is the “residential parent.” The other is the “noncustodial parent” who usually is required to pay child support.
Custody may be awarded to one parent (sole) or both (joint). Even if one parent is awarded sole parental rights, both parents are entitled to visitation and each parent must honor the visitation schedule.
In the eyes of the court, the foundation of any child custody agreement is anchored by the child’s best interests, not the best interests of the parents. The court will weigh factors such as each parent’s relationship with the child, the child’s relationship with any siblings, and the child’s ties to the community. The court will also consider the physical and mental health and stability of each parent, the willingness of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, timely payment of child support, and respect for the visitation schedule.
Whether you and your spouse agree on a child custody arrangement or the judge determines that arrangement, the court will focus on what it believes is in the best interest of the child.
Child custody agreements are valid until the child reaches the age of 18 or is emancipated, but can be modified if there is a material change in circumstances that affects the child’s best interests. For example, if the health status of a parent changes, or one parent moves out of state or out of the country, or one parent is failing to uphold the agreement. Again, the child’s best interest will dictate any modification to the existing agreement.
Raising children is complicated. So is determining how children should be raised when parents divorce. Even if a divorce is relatively amicable, an experienced family law attorney can help you understand all the factors involved in child custody and be your advocate during the legal process. If the divorce is not amicable, legal counsel is even more important to your future and your children’s.
With so much riding on child custody in your divorce or in your wishes for modification of an existing agreement, look to our team at Peterson & Peterson for help. For decades, we have been helping parents like you in Xenia, Beavercreek, Bellbrook, and surrounding Ohio communities explore their options and make important decisions. Call today to schedule a consultation.