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Understanding shared parenting in Ohio: a client-centered approach

On Behalf of | Sep 14, 2022 | Family Law |

In a shared parenting system, an Ohio court may allocate certain parental rights and responsibilities to both parents and issue a “Shared Parenting Order.” This type of court order requires parents to share all or some of the physical and legal care of a child in accordance with an official document. A court does not have to order that a child spend equal time with both parents in a shared parenting system.

Although commonly referred to as “custody,” inside the Family, Domestic, and Juvenile Courts of Ohio, child custody is referred to as “the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities.” Similarly, “visitation” is referred to as “parenting time.” Despite these distinctions, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably outside of a formal court setting.

Terminology and the basics

Joint legal custody is a way to give both parents a say in their child’s upbringing. It is meant for situations in which both parents are willing, able, and available to make important decisions in a child’s life.

There are many ways parents can share legal custody. A court may let you decide the specifics, or it may use one of the arrangements below (or a variation) as standard:

Scenario 1: Parents collaborate on all decisions, whenever feasible. For example, the parents decide together what school their child will attend and whether the child will go on a particular field trip.

Scenario 2: Each parent makes decisions for the child when the parent has physical custody. For example, if a teenage daughter asks to go on a multi-day camping trip while with one parent and it falls within their parenting time, that parent can decide whether to let her go.

Scenario 3: Parents make big decisions together, and each makes smaller decisions individually when a parent has physical custody of the child. For example, the parents decide together what school their child attends; if the child has a field trip, the parent who has physical custody during that time decides if he or she should go.

Scenario 4: Each parent has authority over certain types of decisions. For example, the mother has the authority to make decisions about public vs. private school, and the father has authority to make decisions about extracurriculars the child will participate in.

graphic showing types of custody

How does a court determine if shared parenting is right for my child?

Regardless of the name of the Ohio court that hears your custody case, the court officer (judge or magistrate) who will hear your case will use a legal standard referred to as the “child’s best interest.” The Court will consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to:

  • The wishes of the parents regarding their child’s care
  • The parent’s ability to physically, emotionally, and financially care for the child
  • The ability and willingness to follow the Court’s orders
  • The mental health, physical health, and character of the parents
  • The willingness to cooperate with the other parent and encourage a healthy relationship
  • Any history of crime, violence, or substance abuse
  • The likelihood or plans of a parent to move out of state

However, the court does not just look at the parents, they also considers the child’s:

  • Age
  • Mental and physical health
  • If mature enough, the wishes of the child
  • Relationship with each parent and other family members
  • Home, school, and social life

When parents are willing to work together, courts are more likely to agree to a shared parenting arrangement. Furthermore, a court can also require the parent not requesting shared parenting to submit a proposed plan to get the other parent to collaborate and compromise.

Benefits of shared parenting

For many separated and divorced parents, their former relationship (and sometimes new relationships) makes communication and collaboration with one another difficult.

Some parents truly believe that the sharing of parenting time and responsibilities causes more harm and stress on a child, but if done right, the benefits of shared parenting can outweigh the disadvantages for a number of reasons.

Children have different emotional needs at different stages of their lives. Very young kids might be vocal about how much they miss Mom or Dad when they aren’t with one of them, and some teenagers might seem indifferent about which parent they are staying with.

When parents work together to make key decisions for their child, the child ultimately benefits. Children who see their parents interact positively and compromise in difficult situations learn to work through disagreements and compromise.

As any parent can attest (probably you included), raising a child is never easy. A child growing up in a divided or separated home can be a painful and disruptive situation without both parents present and in agreement on what is best.

Additional topics to consider

Although a Shared Parenting Plan can be relatively simple, Ohio courts typically encourage parents to include as much detail as possible for parents to stipulate how potential disagreements will be handled and resolved. Such as:

  • Large Expenses: Many parents with similar incomes split large expenses (i.e., medical bills, school tuition, etc.) evenly. Some split large expenses according to each parent’s income.
  • Claiming Dependents on Taxes: If you equally split time and expenses, you can alternate who claims the child each year or allocate benefits to one parent.
  • Relocation: You can specify a time frame in which parents must notify one another of a move. Alternatively, it is possible to include that a child must live within a certain school district or county.
  • Out-of-Area Travel and Vacations: How, when, and who will take the child or notify the other parent of a planned vacation.
  • Exchanges: Will you meet at a neutral location to exchange your child and their things, or will the receiving parent be responsible for the pickup of the child?
  • Schedule Specifics: Including specific definitions can help clear up future misunderstandings and miscommunications. When does the weekend begin? What length of time constitutes a dinner visit? What happens if a parent is suddenly unable to pick up the children?
  • Response Time: How long should a parent wait after contacting the other before he or she can act alone? For example, using Scenario 1 (See “Joint Legal Custody” above), if two parents agree to make decisions about extra-circular activates together, but one hasn’t replied to a text and voicemail about an afterschool club, how long before the other parent can sign the child up on their own?
  • Sharing Information: It is essential to specify how you will share the child’s important information (i.e., grades, medical records, etc.). Will each parent email the records as they receive them? Utilize a digital drop box (i.e., Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.)? Obtain records independently?
  • New Partners: Specify how you will introduce new partners to your child. How long until it is appropriate for new partners to meet your child? Should you meet the other parent’s partner before they meet your child?
  • Resolving Disagreements: You can require a visit to a mediator, parenting coordinator, or mutual friend to resolve any disagreements before going back to court.
  • Periodic Schedule Review: As your child gets older, life will change, both for you and your child.

Modifying the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities

Either parent can file with the court a request to modify an earlier order. You might get a new job with hours that overlap with your parenting time. Or your child could start a new after-school activity that happens during your parenting time. If there is a change that creates a problem with your old parenting time schedule, you can ask the court to change it; however, a court will not grant a modification unless (1) there has been a “change in circumstances” since the last custody order and (2) it is now in the child’s “best interest” (See “child’s best interest” factors above) to modify the previous order.

A court official will hold a hearing in court to review evidence and hear testimony from witnesses. If the court official finds that a change serves the “child’s best interest,” the court will modify the court order accordingly; however, it is important to note that a court will rarely give any one parent everything they ask for in a modification.

Tips on living and parenting with shared parenting

1. Commit to Making Co-Parenting an Open Dialogue: Arrange a method such as email, texting, or face-to-face that works best for you and your co-parent. There are websites (i.e., Our Family Wizard) where you can upload schedules, share information, and virtually communicate so you do not have to directly be in contact.

2. Create an Extended Family Plan: Agree on the role aunts, uncles, and grandparents will play and the access they will be granted while your child is in each other’s care.

3. Rules Should be Consistent: Be aware that your child will frequently test boundaries and rules.

4. Document Everything: Quite often, the challenges, changes, and conflicts that come inherent in co-parenting lead to further legal action. Document every interaction with date, time, content, and a list of anyone else who witnessed the interaction. Keeping careful records in a timely fashion helps keep everyone honest and accountable.

5. Be Boring: Research shows that children need time to do ordinary things, not just fun things. Keeping the balance with help avoid jealousy and competition, neither of which is good for you nor your co-parent.

6. Use an Online Calendar: Use of a common online calendar (i.e., Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, etc.) that syncs with your personal calendar can easily avoid scheduling conflicts. If you share details about major events like school concerts, parties, and after school activates, you can avoid disappointment and loss of trust from your co-parent and child.

7. Remember the Important Things: Keep in mind that it is not always about what you think is best, or what is convenient for you or for your co-parent, shared parenting is about trying to create the best life for your child.

Representing yourself

Although it is not recommended, you may represent yourself. As a pro se (self-representing) litigant, you must abide by the same complex laws and rules as an experienced attorney. If you and the other parent reach an agreement on your own, have your paperwork looked over by a legal professional.