Skip to Main Content

Ohio Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Increasingly, more children are born to unmarried parents in Ohio. Although families come in all shapes and sizes, Ohio law is pretty clear about the custody rights of unmarried parents. Read on to find out more about Ohio custody laws for unmarried parents and what you need to do to establish custody if you are the mother or father.

Unmarried Mothers’ Custody Rights

According to Ohio Revised Statute 3109.042, an unmarried mother is the sole legal and residential custodian of the child. She does not need to do anything to establish her custody rights, and the unmarried father is not automatically granted parental rights, either. Instead, the mother will be the sole custodian until a court issues an order granting parental rights to the father.

A narrow exception exists in the statute for mothers who become impregnated through a rape or sexual battery for which they have been convicted. In this unusual circumstance, the mother is not automatically granted custodial status.

Unmarried Fathers’ Custody Rights

An unmarried father has work to do if he hopes to obtain visitation or custody of his children. First, fathers need to establish their paternity, which can be done in the following ways:

  1. Sign an affidavit of paternity. You can usually do this at the hospital at the time of birth. Later, you can sign this affidavit at the local registrar or health department, or you can visit a Child Support Enforcement Agency. The mother will need to consent for the affidavit to be effective. If you do not want to immediately start paying child support, we recommend that you do not sign this affidavit at the local child support enforcement agency. You can be forced to pay child support even before you are given any rights to custody or visitation.
  2. Undergo DNA testing at the child support enforcement agency. The mother typically needs to consent for this to happen.
  3. File a paternity suit in court. The mother does not need to consent to this, and you can establish paternity over her objection. A judge will hear evidence, including DNA evidence, and issue a ruling as to whether you are the father.

Establishing paternity, however, does not automatically give you rights to custody. Instead, the Ohio custody laws for unmarried parents require that you file a motion with the court requesting custody or visitation. Because this is a complicated legal step, you should meet with a Columbus, Ohio family law attorney to discuss how you want to proceed.

Custody is Distinct from Child Support

Many parents confuse the role of child support and do not understand that it has no relation to custody or visitation. For example, we sometimes hear people say:

  • “I don’t want to be involved in my child’s life anymore, so I can stop making child support payments, right?” Wrong. These two are not related.
  • “I’m paying child support, so I have a right to custody or visitation, correct?” Again, this is wrong. You have no right to custody or visitation until a judge awards you those rights.

Some parents see child support as some part of a “pay to play” scheme, where they pay money to gain access to the children. But children have a right to child support regardless of whether you are involved in your life. You can be involved with them or not, but you will pay child support until a judge terminates the child support order.

Why You Need a Lawyer’s Help with Issues Involving Ohio Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Unmarried parents who share custody must come up with a parenting plan. This detailed document will include information about who will have physical custody and when. Unmarried parents will need to work out the logistics of handing the child off to each other, as well as how to divide vacations, holidays, and summers.

A judge must approve all parenting plans and will only do so after finding that the parenting plan is in the child’s best interest. Because these plans are hard to develop on your own, you should meet with a family law attorney as soon as possible.

Experienced Child Custody Attorneys in Columbus, Ohio

Ohio’s custody laws for unmarried parents are slanted in favor of mothers. However, unmarried fathers do have rights even if they are required to jump through a few hoops to establish them. Unmarried mothers, although granted automatic custody, might also lose that custody in some situations.

At the Lawrence Law Office, we have helped countless mothers and fathers establish a custody arrangement that works for them. To find out more about the services we offer, please schedule your consultation by calling 614-228-3664.

Lawrence Law Office

Contact Us



496 S 3rd St Columbus, OH 43215

get directions

call us

P: (614) 228-3664
F: (614) 228-3798