If you’re parting ways with your spouse or partner and have children, you might be concerned about who will get parental rights. Unlike what many people might believe, greater parental rights for mothers are not always more likely than for fathers. The laws in Ohio emphasize the importance of shared parental rights and responsibilities. Ohio Courts recognize that a child can greatly benefit from having a relationship with both parents and do not favor one over the other. Therefore, a judge or magistrate will determine parenting matters based on what is in the best interests of the child.
What Parental Rights Do Unmarried Parents Have?
Automatic parental rights depend upon the parent’s marital status at the time of the child’s birth. Under Ohio law, an unmarried mother is the sole residential parent by default, meaning she automatically has sole custody of her child from the time they are born. In contrast, a married mother has the same parental rights and responsibilities as her spouse. A married heterosexual couple automatically shares equal custody rights because paternity is presumed; there are several people and groups attempting to expand that presumption of parenthood to include married homosexual couples as well.
Because an unmarried mother has sole parental rights to her child under the law, she does not need to file any paperwork to establish parentage. Ohio law allows the birth certificate to be the only paperwork necessary to prove that a mother is the parent of child born outside a marriage, and as a result can enroll her child in school or get medical care for her child, for instance. An unmarried father has no custody rights or right to any parenting time until paternity has been legally established. However, he also does not have any obligation to pay child support or provide the child with health insurance. See our article: Establishing Paternity in Ohio | Graham-Hurd | Family Law Attorneys (grahamhurdlaw.com).
In order for the father to have parental rights, an unmarried father can establish paternity by signing an acknowledgement of paternity at the hospital at the time the child is born or with the local health department after the child is born. Paternity may also be established through genetic testing through the Child Support Enforcement Agency, or by obtaining a court order. Once paternity has been legally established, unmarried parents have equal footing to seek parenting time from the Court.
How Are Parental Rights Determined in a Divorce or Dissolution?
In a divorce, dissolution, or never-married case regarding allocation of parental rights, courts have two choices regarding the allocation or division of parental rights and responsibilities. A judge can either give sole residential parent and legal custodian status to one parent, or the Judge can determine that a shared parenting plan is best for the child. See our article Shared Parenting vs. Sole Residential | Graham-Hurd Law (grahamhurdlaw.com). In the event a court allocates parental rights to one parent, the legal right to make all major decisions for the child, including those involving healthcare, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities rests with that one parent.
Importantly, these matters do not always need to be litigated in the courtroom. It is best for parents to work together to reach an agreement regarding parenting time using an alternative dispute resolution method such as mediation. This allows parents to create a tailored parenting plan that works for their family and meets their child’s unique needs. If parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding their child’s living arrangement and their parenting responsibilities, the court will decide the outcome based on the best interests of the child.
A judge will consider the following factors when it comes to deciding what is in a child’s best interests for the purpose of parental rights and responsibilities:
- The emotional relationship the child has with each parent, their siblings, and other family members
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- Each parent’s ability to provide a safe home environment for the child
- Whether there were any instances of domestic violence or child abuse
- The child’s wishes (if they are of a mature age)
- Each parent’s wishes and concerns
- Which parent is more likely to honor the custody arrangement
The above are only some of the factors a court would evaluate when determining the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. Under Ohio law, a court has the authority to consider “all relevant factors” that have anything to do with a child’s best interests.
How Do Courts Determine When to Order a Shared Parenting Plan?
Courts prefer shared parenting arrangements — in these situations, each parent is the child’s “residential parent and legal custodian” at all times, regardless of the child’s physical location. However, courts are not required to grant shared parenting. Before granting shared parenting, a court must not only evaluate the child’s best interests, but it must also consider the following factors:
- Whether both parents can cooperate with each other and make joint decisions
- Whether each parent will encourage the child to have a relationship with the other
- Whether either parent has a history of child or spousal abuse
- The geographic proximity of the parents
- A guardian ad litem’s recommendation (if applicable)
Even though parents share responsibility for raising their child with a shared parenting plan, it does not always mean the child will spend exactly 50% of the time with each parent. This is often impossible due to the parents’ work and the child’s school and extracurricular schedules. When shared parenting is granted, parents should work together to develop a plan that provides the child with stability and prioritizes their needs. Shared parenting is much more than a schedule. It is a willingness and a desire to continue to co-parent the child, despite the termination of the personal relationship between the parents.
Contact Experienced Ohio Family Law Attorneys Today
If you are facing an issue regarding the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, it’s vital to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side. Located in Green, Ohio – halfway between the Akron and Canton courthouses – Melissa Graham-Hurd & Associates, LLC provides reliable representation to clients for parental rights matters and helps to ensure the best interests of their children are met. Contact Melissa Graham-Hurd and Associates to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.