Filing for Parental Rights in Ohio: 5 Steps

Before you open a parental rights and responsibilities case, consider all your options for deciding custody.

  • You can settle with the other parent and ask a judicial officer to sign an order incorporating the terms of your agreement.
  • For help reaching an agreement, you may try an alternative dispute resolution method, such as mediation, negotiation, collaborative law or parent coordination.
  • The remaining option is litigating in court.

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If you choose to represent yourself in settlement or litigation, follow the steps below to open a case. If you have an attorney or use an alternative method of dispute resolution, the person you hire may file your case for you.

Anyone who plays a pivotal role in the children's lives may request custody or visitation. Non-parents must prove extraordinary circumstances that require them to get custody. Either party involved can open the case.

Requirements often vary by county. Consult with a local attorney or contact your court to ensure you have the necessary paperwork completed correctly.

Step 1: Determine your court and type of case

First, determine if you'll file in juvenile or domestic relations court.

In small counties (e.g., Adams, Noble), both juvenile and domestic relations court are in one location called common pleas court. In large counties (e.g., Franklin, Cuyahoga), they have separate locations.

Custody-only cases and paternity cases go through juvenile court. Parents file these cases in their children's county of residence. Alleged fathers must establish paternity before they can petition for parental rights and custody.

Married parents file their divorce, legal separation or dissolution cases in domestic relations court. Legal separation is common for spouses who aren't ready to divorce but want to live apart and divide custody and possessions. A dissolution is an uncontested divorce, meaning the spouses agree on all terms and don't want to list a reason for the split.

Before you can open a case in domestic relations court, you must live in Ohio for at least six months, and in the county where you're filing for at least 90 days. Divorce and separation cases require a reason, known legally as the ground. If a spouse is pregnant, your divorce won't be final until after the child's birth, as the court can't establish custody for an unborn child.

A contested case is when the parties disagree on one or more terms. In an uncontested case, the parties agree on all terms.

Step 2: Complete your paperwork

All forms should be typed and double-spaced or printed legibly in black ink. The person who files the initiating papers is the plaintiff or petitioner, while the person they file against is the defendant or respondent.

Every custody case requires the following forms, regardless of the court.

  • Parenting Proceeding Affidavit: List the children involved in your case, their current and former residences, and any prior cases involving them. If necessary, you can ask the court to conceal an address from the other parent.
  • Health Insurance Affidavit: List each parent's health insurance coverage. You must make every effort to get an affidavit from the other parent. If unsuccessful, note the missing form on your affidavit.
  • Application for child support: You may apply via your complaint or petition (information below), a separate application or, for public assistance recipients, through the Child Support Enforcement Agency.

The following forms are required for some cases:

If your case is in juvenile court...

Complete a Complaint for Parentage, Allocation of Parental Rights and Responsibilities and Parenting Time, which specifies what you're asking the court to grant. Attach the children's birth certificates or a court order (e.g., paternity, adoption) that proves their parentage.

Your court may also request a proposed parenting plan and parenting time schedule. If not required, you can still file these documents or bring them with you to court to show your desired arrangement to the judicial officer.

If your case is in domestic relations court...

All cases in this court require an Affidavit of Income and Expenses and Affidavit of Property. The first details the spouses' individual incomes, expenses and debt. The second details joint and individual properties and debt. For both forms, if you don't know the exact figures, write "EST" beside your best estimate.


For a contested divorce case, complete a Complaint for Divorce with Children.

If spouses reach an agreement before the court issues a final decree, they can convert their divorce to a dissolution by filing a Petition for Dissolution (more below).


For a dissolution case, complete a Petition for Dissolution and a Separation Agreement.

The petition asks the court to grant the dissolution, while the agreement lays out terms the parents chose together for custody, parenting time and support, among other marital matters. If possible, hire an attorney to write the agreement, as it's complex and won't be accepted in an incorrect format.

If your spouse contests any aspect of the case, you must file for divorce. To convert your dissolution case to divorce, some counties only require you to file a Complaint for Divorce, while others make you start a divorce proceeding from scratch.

Legal separation

For a separation case, complete your county's legal separation packet. It includes a complaint that should specify what you want the court to grant besides separation, such as residential custody and child support.

If you and your spouse agree on the terms of your separation, complete a Separation Agreement to settle your case.

To convert your separation to divorce, complete your county's Motion for Conversion.

Step 3: Get your paperwork notarized

Sign your paperwork in front of a notary. You'll need at least two copies of each original, notarized form. You can make copies at the courthouse for a fee.

Step 4: Open your case

Hand in your paperwork to the clerk of court and pay the filing fees.

In juvenile court, the filing fee is $160, plus $50 per child in your case. In domestic relations court, there's a $300 fee to file for divorce and a $200 fee for dissolution or legal separation.

You also have to pay $75 for every motion you file.

The clerk will file the copies of your documents and stamp your original complaint or petition, which you can keep. You case is now open.

Later, the clerk will serve the other party with official notification of the case. Some methods (personal service by a process server and service by publication) require you to pay an additional fee.

Step 5: File judgment forms

For a dissolution case, you'll need to file a Judgment Entry, and for a divorce, file a Final Judgment. If your case is in juvenile court, ask the clerk if your county requires a Parenting Judgment Entry. Courts use all these forms to finalize a case, so be sure to complete them before you get a ruling from the judicial officer.

Information for defendants

Defendants may need to file a number of forms. All must be notarized.

In every case, the defendant must file a Health Insurance Affidavit.

You can also use any of the forms above that apply to you, such as the Poverty Affidavit to have court fees waived, the Motion for Continuance to change a hearing date, and the Motion and Affidavit or Counter Affidavit for Temporary Orders to propose a temporary custody order.

If you disagree with what the other parent asks for in their complaint, you should file an answer (details below). It's recommended that you hire an attorney to write it. Within 28 days of being served, mail a copy of your answer to the plaintiff or their attorney, and turn in the original and another copy to the court listed on the complaint.

If your case is in juvenile court...

Juvenile court doesn't have an official form for answers, so you'll have to draft your own. Follow the format of the complaint you received. At the top, write the court and county where the complaint was filed, the plaintiff's contact information, your contact information, the case number and the name of the judicial officer assigned to the case.

Then, paragraph by paragraph, respond to the complaint clearly and honestly, affirming what you know to be true and denying what you know to be false. You can briefly explain your responses, but save details for when you argue your case in court.

On the bottom of the last page, print your name and contact information, as well as information for the plaintiff or their attorney. Write the date you'll mail the answer, and sign next to that.

If your case is in domestic relations court...

If you received a divorce complaint, file an Answer to Complaint for Divorce with Children. If you want to file claims of your own, complete a Counterclaim for Divorce. If you don't file, the court will make decisions without you in an uncontested divorce hearing about 45 days after you were served.

If you received a legal separation complaint, file an Answer to Complaint for Separation.

In addition to the answer, married parents responding to a complaint must complete and file the following:

Additional help with filing

Court employees can't tell you what to write on your forms, but they can provide the required paperwork, make copies and inform you of fees.

Ohio's supreme court provides free forms for juvenile and domestic relations cases, with instructions.

If you don't have an attorney, consider contacting a legal clinic to ensure your paperwork is completed correctly.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the court process will be a hearing or a settlement filing. Either way, take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom parenting calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more.

You can use it to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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