Parents often lose sight of their child’s needs and wants during a divorce. Back then, Ohio courts allowed children to choose which parent to live with. However, this put too much pressure on children and exposed them to parental manipulation. Today, the court protects their interests and only considers their preference if they are mature enough to understand its implications.
How the court decides on child custody
Ohio courts do not use “custody.” Instead, the state determines the appropriate parenting arrangement for the child and which parent is a legal custodian and a residential parent.
A legal custodian has the right to the physical care and control of the child. They can decide on the child’s education, medical care, shelter, food and discipline. A residential parent is the person the child lives with and is responsible for their well-being.
Depending on the arrangement, one or both parents can fulfill both roles or one parent may be given neither.
- Shared parenting arrangement: Both parents are legal custodians and residential parents, having equal rights. However, the child will likely spend more time with one parent than the other. It is comparable to joint custody.
- Nonshared parenting arrangement: Only one parent is a legal custodian and residential parent. It is comparable to sole custody.
Regardless of the arrangement, any big changes will require some adjustment from the child. It’s natural for children to have strong opinions, especially as they become older.
Does your child’s preference bear any weight?
When parents cannot agree on an arrangement, a judge can decide based on the child’s best interests. They will do this by evaluating multiple factors, including the child’s level of adjustment, who else the child will be living with, the health of all parties and the wishes of the parents and the child.
In most cases, the court will not pursue the requests of very young children who are not yet capable of reasoning. Older or more mature children who can defend their choice may voice their request to the judge in a private interview. However, it does not always follow that the child’s preferences will bear any weight.
In any case, the court places the child’s best interests above everything. Divorcing spouses may find it best to consult with their attorneys on how this could affect their parenting arrangements.