Ohio Court Process: 8 Steps to Parental Rights

Litigating custody of children in Ohio consists of eight main steps. Some can be skipped or rearranged and others added, depending on your circumstances and county.

At any point, parents can settle (such as in a dissolution case) and jump to Step 8 of the court process.

Mediation, collaborative law and other alternative methods for deciding custody follow their own processes.

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Step 1: Preparation

Do your research and consider your options. Will you request sole or shared custody? What does your ideal parenting schedule look like?

Then, meet with a lawyer to come up with a legal strategy. Attorney representation is strongly recommended, but if you're not able to hire someone, you should at least do a free or low-cost consultation to get professional advice.

Step 2: Opening a case

Now open a case. Divorce, dissolution and legal separation cases go through domestic relations court. Other cases involving children (e.g., a standalone custody petition or a paternity case) go through juvenile court.

After you file, the court will officially notify the other party through a process called service.

Possible: Emergency custody hearing

If your children are at risk of being harmed or removed from the state within the next few days, you can request an expedited hearing to determine if emergency orders (also called ex parte orders) are necessary.

Emergency orders stay in effect until the next hearing, when they can be terminated, extended or replaced by temporary orders.

Possible: Separation hearing

If you file for separation, some counties require a separation hearing.

Here, a judicial officer asks which terms the spouses agree or disagree on, and the spouses can present evidence in support of their terms. Then, the officer issues an order legally separating the couple.

Step 3: Initial case management conference

About 30 days after you open your case, parents, lawyers and a judicial officer meet in a case management conference. They may discuss remaining emergency issues or draft a temporary order. This is also a time when the judicial officer could order mediation, a guardian ad litem, or a forensic evaluation or home investigation.

Although parents attend, lawyers usually speak on their behalf.

Step 4: Discovery

This is when parents exchange information so each side knows what the other is preparing. This stage can continue in the background while the following steps unfold, lasting for several months. It may include depositions (out-of-court interviews conducted by lawyers), though these are uncommon in parental rights and responsibilities cases.

Step 5: Status and discovery conferences

Generally, you'll have a hearing every 30 to 60 days following your initial case management conference. If the court orders an evaluation or investigation, this timing may extend to 60 to 90 days. Parents with lawyers don't have to attend every hearing, but should in case the lawyers manage to negotiate a settlement.

Some courts divide hearings into status conferences and discovery conferences. At a status conference, the parties and the judicial officer discuss the case's progress, motions and the possibility of settlement. Discovery conferences are for collecting and exchanging information, such as financial or police records requested by the parties.

It takes about six hearings in domestic relations court and fewer in juvenile court to determine if a case requires trial.

Step 6: Pre-trial conference

Here, the judicial officer, parents and their lawyers discuss acceptable evidence and the possibility of settlement, among other matters that need clarification before trial. The judicial officer will issue an order that requires litigants to submit a list of exhibits, witnesses and anticipated objections.

Possible: In camera (private) hearing

Just before or just after trial, the judicial officer may interview the children in his or her chambers, if the children show sufficient maturity.

An in camera hearing allows children to express feelings about the case without pressure from parents. Only the child, judicial officer, guardian ad litem (if applicable) and court reporter attend. The transcript is only available to the judicial officer and the guardian ad litem.

Step 7: Trial

If you are unable to settle, you will ultimately end up in trial.

In a trial, both parties have the opportunity to explore evidence and question witnesses in front of the judicial officer so he or she can issue a ruling.

A trial can last hours, days, weeks or — in extremely complicated cases — months. Often there's a significant waiting period between days of testimony since court calendars fill up and lawyers need time to gather evidence.

Step 8: Final custody order

To bring the custody process to a close, a judge will sign a final custody order, which lays out the legal terms parents must follow, in the form of a parenting plan. The details are decided either by a judicial officer after a trial or by the parties themselves through settlement.

If a parent has reason to contest the order, they can appeal to a higher court and begin the legal process again.

As children grow older and their lifestyles change, families may need to modify the parenting plan several times. Parents can develop a new plan together or request that the court modify the existing plan.

Throughout your case

During the custody process, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft custody schedules, track parenting time, keep a log of interactions with the other parent and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to child custody.

Throughout your case, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts in your case.

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