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Often, people want to know whether they can leave the state with their child during or after a divorce. Like many answers to legal questions, a good attorney will tell the client, “it depends.” Here is a very brief overview of the law and considerations.
Prior to the Divorce Process
If the two parents are still married and there has not been a complaint for divorce filed in any court of this state, Ohio law states that parents stand on equal footing as to custody of the children, and that both parents are considered the residential and legal custodian of the children. This means that yes, technically, there is no crime involved for taking the children and moving to another state. As a legal custodian, the parent that wants to move certainly can determine where and with whom the child shall reside.
However, it should be noted that while a parent that is the legal custodian of the children can move and relocate with his or her children, this fact may in fact impact a court’s later determination on how to allocate parental rights and responsibilities (custody and parenting time/visitation). Some of the factors that a court is to consider is whether a parent is or is planning to establish a residence outside of Ohio, whether a parent is more likely than the other to facilitate and promote visitation, and finally, whether the other parent has been guilty of parental kidnapping. Please note that although no criminal charges will follow, taking the children out of state may be considered “parental kidnapping.”
During the Divorce Process
When the parents are not yet divorced, but a complaint for divorce has actually been filed in an Ohio court, there still has not been a FINAL allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. However, unless the parents are still residing in the same household, the Court will issue temporary orders as to custody and visitation. The Court will normally award one parent the interim temporary custody of the children during the pendency of the case. If the parent that was not designated as the temporary custodian takes the children, then that parent will be guilty of contempt of court for violating a valid court order.
Furthermore, it is very common and routine for both parents to seek and obtain temporary restraining orders during the pendency of the case. Normally these restraining orders prohibit a parent from removing the children from the state of Ohio, except for vacations of 14 days or less. Again, if the non-residential (temporary) custodian removes the children to another state, that parent will be in violation of a valid court order.
If a parent believes it is necessary to move to another state, that parent will have to file a motion requesting the court allow that parent to do so.
Again, this is a very brief sketch as to this subject and it cannot be urged strongly enough that any parent that wants to move out of Ohio consult an attorney to ensure that it will not negatively impact that parent’s case for custody or subject him or her to civil or criminal penalties.
Gay and lesbian couples are often concerned that their “non-traditional family” will be a disadvantage in custody decisions. While technically this issue is never to be determinative of custody disputes, lest the Court violate the Equal Protection Clause, many gay and lesbian couples feel that their sexual orientation played a role in the ultimate disposition of the Court. Putting aside potential biases of certain judges, there is at least one case that seems to lend credence to those concerns. In 2008, the Second Appellant District in Clark County decided a case by the name of Page v. Page in which the Court specifically stated that a homosexual relationship of a mother caused adverse affects to the minor children and warranted a change of custody from that mother to the father. The facts of that case can be summarized as follows:
Four years after the mother was designated the residential parent of both children, the father filed a motion to modify the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. The common pleas trial Court granted the father’s motion and awarded him custody. The appellate court held that the common pleas court did not err in finding that a change of circumstances occurred as there was evidence that, as a collateral result of the mother’s relationship with her same-sex partner, both children had experienced personality disorders, and therefore, modification of custody was in the children’s best interest. The court determined that the adverse collateral effects of the mother’s relationship with her partner and the partner’s role in the children’s lives showed little room for improvement in the future.
While the Court was careful to say that it was not basing its decision on the simple fact that the mother was a lesbian, but rather the collateral affects that her relationship had on the children, it should give pause to the gay and lesbian couples fighting for custody. This is something to keep an eye on in the future as more and more gay and lesbian couples fight for custody of one of the partner’s minor children.
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Child Support in Ohio – How can I have the amount adjusted if I can no longer pay the current amount?
Child Support in Ohio is established by statute and is based upon a standard formula. Only in rare cases does the Court deviate from the amount that the formula prescribes for the divorcing couples’ situation (if the divorcing couple makes a lot of money or very little money combined, the Court has the power to ignore the prescribed formula and establish an amount itself). This formula is useful and may be fair at the time of the divorce decree, but many clients want to know what happens if circumstances change such that the amount of child support is too much or too little a few years down the road. For example, maybe the father has lost his job and can no longer pay the amount originally set-down in the divorce decree. Or, say the wife wins the lottery and now has a better financial position than she did when the couple divorced. Well, a child support obligor can ask for an Administrative review of the child support amount (through the Child Support Enforcement Agency) and ask that it be reduced based upon a change of circumstances. Or, the obligor can file a motion with the Court (as a post-decree motion) and ask that the Court modify the amount based upon the change in circumstances. If the Child Support Agency (CSEA) declines the obligor’s request for a modification downward, he can appeal that ruling to the Court afterward. So, in short, if you are a current child support obligor and you feel that based upon a change in circumstances, the amount you are paying is no longer appropriate, there are avenues to pursue where you might have it reduced. Speak with an attorney or contact our firm for a free consultation to determine whether you can have your child support reduced (or increased) and how best to go about it.
We have previously posted on the topic of filing a motion to change custody of minor children from one parent to the other (a motion to “reallocate parental rights and responsibilities”). As was discussed in that post, the petitioning parent that wants to become the custodial parent has the burden to prove that there has been some substantive change in circumstances of the current custodial parent or the minor child (not the petitioning parent’s circumstances). This can be a rather high burden for the petitioning parent to meet, and if the child appears to be doing alright in the current situation, the chances of success are not that great, even if the petitioning parent’s home would be a better destination for the children. Courts are loath to shift the children around after custody has been established, and therefore, a change in circumstances is needed. Once the parent shows that there is such a change, he or she must demonstrate that a change in custodial status would be in the children’s best interest. If the parent cannot first adequately show a change in circumstances, there is no need to even evaluate the children’s best interest.
However, what if the petitioning parent does not want to obtain legal custody, but rather wants to merely increase visitation with the children? Although the motion would still be considered a motion to reallocate parental rights and responsibilities, the standard for modification of the prior Court Order is not as high. The petitioning parent need not show that there is any change in circumstances in order to prevail on a motion to increase parenting time (“Visitation”). Rather, all the petitioning parent must do is demonstrate that increasing visitation is in the child’s best interest. Essentially, a petitioning parent skips straight to the best interest issue, and never has to show that something has changed with the custodial parent or child. Motions to increase parenting time are common and are often granted, considering that increasing visitation would not fundamentally disrupt the children’s life and more contact with a parent is in most cases beneficial to the child.
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It can be very confusing as to which court is the proper court to file a motion for alteration of parental rights and responsibilities. Do I file in the Domestic Relations Court? Or, do I file in the Juvenile Court? How are they different? It seems that they both handle child custody issues in Ohio, so which is the right one? Well, the answer is a simple one. If the parents were married and divorced, then the Domestic relations Court will handle all post-decree motions, including those related to child custody, child support and spousal support. However, if the parents were never married, then any original custody determination was made in the Juvenile Court and that Court would handle all subsequent motions related to child custody. Basically, go back to the Court where the original determination was made. If you cannot remember which Court or find your papers, then simply apply the general rule.
If you have never been married to the other parent, and there has never been a Court Order determining child custody, then you would need to file in the Juvenile Court initially.
In Sum: always file in the court that originally issued any order respecting child custody. If there has never been a Court Order respecting child custody and you are not married to the other parent, then file in the Juvenile Court. If you are married but have lived a part for several years and you want a custody determination, then look to the Domestic Relations Court.