Under Ohio law, once a parent is designated as the residential and custodial parent, the prefernce is to maintain that person as the custodial parent. The Courts want to avoid a perneial tug-of-war between the parents with the children caught in the middle. Courts do not want to see motion after motion filed by the parents, but would rather have the custody established and settled for the benefit of the children. However, when it is appropriate, a post-decree motion for a reallocation of parental rights should be filed. The issue, then, becomes what must a parent prove in order to gain custody of their children from the other parent.
When the issue of custody is originally litigated during the divorce proceeding, the parents stand on equal footing as to custody and the standard is simply what would be in the “best interest of the child.” The best interest standard is a broad concept with 10 factors listed in the statute for the Court to consider.
The situation changes in the context of a post-decree motion. Unlike when the issue of custody was originally litigated during the divorce, the burden is higher on the petitioner. The parents no longer stand on equal footing as the preference or presumption is to maintain the status quo. For that reason the legal standard is more involved, which are:
1. That there has been a change in circumstances of the residential parent or the child since the original decree was issued (note: a change in circumstances of the non-residential parent does not matter). There must be some change that warrants a reallocation of parental rights and responsibilities. case law has been developed which provides lawyers an idea of what the courts consider to be a substantive change in circumstances.
2. That the change of custody is in the best interest of the child (and the court is again guided by the factors set out in the statute).
3. That any harm to the child by disrupting the status quo will be outweighed by the benefits of the change.
This is a condensed expression of the legal standard, and anyone wishing to have custody altered should consult an attorney, but hopefully it will give our readers an idea of what they must show if they want to pursue custody of their child.