Child custody disputes are often lengthy, fact-intensive, and emotional. They also are sometimes unavoidable. When parents cannot agree on custody, the judge must decide the issue at a hearing, which requires extensive preparation.
At Lawrence Law Office, we have represented mothers and fathers at many contested hearings. We understand Ohio’s child custody laws inside and out, and we will use our knowledge to your advantage.
Below, we provide 5 steps our clients should take to prepare for their contested custody case.
The term “custody” has been replaced in Ohio with the concept of parental rights and responsibilities. However, there are generally two types of rights and responsibilities at issue:
- The power to decide important legal issues for your child involving education, religious upbringing, and medical care. If a child needs surgery, the parents need to consent to it. Both parents can have a say, or only one parent will be given the power to make these decisions.
- The right to have the child physically present with you or to control where he or she goes. This is what most people think “custody” refers to. One parent can be the sole residential parent, or they could share parenting. Unless they live side-by-side, however, a 50/50 split is unrealistic.
Decide What You Want
Chances are, if your case is contested, it is because you and the other parent can’t agree on a parenting schedule. You should share with your attorney what custody arrangement you hope to have. It is possible for one parent to receive sole legal authority to make decisions, but this typically happens only when the other parent has been absent or abusive.
Find Evidence to Help Your Case
Judges allocate parental rights and responsibilities based on the best interests of the child. This analysis requires judges to look at many factors, such as
- The child’s wishes, if he or she is mature enough
- How well the child has adjusted to school, home, and community
- How likely a parent is to stick to the parenting plan and allow the other parent to visit
- Each parent’s criminal history
- How well each parent can cooperate with the other regarding decision-making for the children
With your lawyer, you will find evidence that is helpful. This evidence can take many forms, but you must remember that the purpose of the evidence is to show that you should have custody.
For example, you might meet with your lawyer to go over all the people who have seen you and your child together. Ideally, these people will also have seen the children with their other parent. If this witness thinks that you are the better parent, they could prove helpful to your case.
You must remember that the judge does not know you or the other parent. The judge, therefore, relies on witnesses to inform his decision.
You might also try to find documentary evidence to back up your case. If the children live with you currently and are doing well in school, you should obtain copies of their report cards. You can also have teachers testify that your children are happy and thriving. This evidence could convince a judge to stick to the status quo, which in this example involves the children living primarily with you.
The great advantage of hiring a lawyer is that he or she can help you find helpful evidence and also develop strategies for dealing with negative information. If you have a criminal record or an alcohol problem, your attorney needs to know. You can take steps to take some of the sting out of these allegations.
Attend a Conference at Court
There are many hearings in court before you ever get to the hearing at which the judge decides custody. In a contested case, a judge will usually hold an initial conference to learn about the dispute. The judge is asking basic facts not to decide the case but to determine the next best step.
In particular, the judge will decide whether to send a couple to mediation, where they will try to work through their disagreements. When ordered by the judge, mediation should be free to the parties.
Identify Next Steps
Contested child custody cases can take a very long time. The court might appoint a guardian ad litem, which it is authorized to do under the statute. This person will represent the best interests of the child. Each parent might also need to be evaluated by a social worker who is appointed by the court.
Contact Lawrence Law Office today. Any parent trying to handle their own contested custody case is at a serious disadvantage. Call our divorce and family law attorneys to schedule an initial consultation.