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How Does the Court Determine What's in the Child's Best Interests When Deciding on Custody?

In family law matters involving children, such as divorce, legal separation, or annulment, determining child custody is one of the most important issues. Children must have a loving and supportive home environment that fosters learning, development, and growth. But when the child's parents are no longer together, it may be difficult to determine how to ensure that the child's needs are being taken care of and they have constant and quality contact with both of their parents.

In Ohio, child custody is referred to as the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. Generally, it is determined by an agreement between both parents. However, if the parents are unable to decide together on whether one or both of them will have custody, the court will step in.

When the court gets involved, it will consider custody based on the child's best interest. In a bit, we will explore in greater depth what factors are used to decide on what is in the child's best interests, but until then, the short version is that custody will be determined based on the child's needs and wants as well as the family's overall circumstances. (Note that even if the parents agree on custody arrangements, the court will still review the plan to ensure that it aligns with the child's best interests.)

Allocating Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Child custody can be awarded to one or both parents. In Ohio, if one parent is primarily allocated rights and responsibilities of their child, they are referred to as the residential parent (commonly, people use the term sole custody). The residential parent makes decisions concerning the child's overall care. The other parent is referred to as the noncustodial parent. Although they do not have decision-making rights for their child, they may be awarded parenting time, which determines a schedule for spending time with their child.

In some cases, both parents can be allocated rights and responsibilities of their child. In Ohio, this situation is referred to as shared parenting (commonly called joint custody). If a shared parenting plan is ordered, both parents equally make decisions about their child's overall care.

Determining How to Allocate Parental Rights and Responsibilities

A court determines how to allocate parental rights and responsibilities in several ways. First, a judge may speak with the child to determine the child's wishes and concerns about which parent has custody. The judge may only consider the child's wishes if they decide that the child has sufficient reasoning ability to express their desires.

Another method for determining the type of custody arrangement that would be in the best interests of the child is through an investigation.

The court may have an investigator look into:

  • The character of all parties involved in the matter
  • The family relations
  • The past conduct of all parties involved
  • The parents' earning ability, and
  • The financial worth of each parent.

Lastly, the court may have the parents and children be subjected to medical, psychological, and/or psychiatric exams.

The court will then decide what is in the best interests of the child based on factors, including, but not limited to:

  • The parents' wishes
  • The child's wishes and concerns
  • The child's relationships with their parents, siblings, and other people with whom they will interact
  • The child's ability to adjust to their home, school, and/or community
  • The mental and physical health of all parties involved
  • The likelihood of the parents to stick to court-ordered parenting time
  • The parents' histories of adhering to previous court orders concerning child support
  • The criminal history of either parent and members of each parents' household, specifically previous convictions for domestic violence or crimes involving child abuse or neglect
  • The parents' histories of adhering to court-ordered parenting time and whether either has denied visitation
  • The location of each parents' residence

Additional considerations are made when the court is trying to determine whether shared parenting time is in the best interests of the child.

These factors include:

  • How well the parents cooperate
  • How well the parents encourage the child to have a relationship with the other parent
  • Whether either parent has a history of domestic violence or child abuse or neglect
  • Whether the parents live close to each other
  • What the guardian ad litem recommends

If the court determines that it is not in the best interests of the child to award custody to either parent, the child will be placed with a relative. If no relative is willing or available to take care of the child, the case will be referred to a juvenile court.

At L. Patrick Mulligan & Associates, LLC, we understand how sensitive child custody matters are and the importance of ensuring that the child gets the care and support they need. Our Dayton lawyers are here to deliver compassionate guidance throughout your case and help protect the best interests of you and your child.

Schedule a free case evaluation by calling us at (937) 685-7006 or contacting us online today.