In Ohio, “allocation of parental rights,” commonly called custody, is the legal right and responsibility to care for and make decisions for a child. If you have an existing custody order, you have to go through the Court to change it.
Unless the parents have a shared parenting agreement, in Ohio usually one parent is awarded custody and one parent is awarded visitation or “parenting time.” This article explains how changes in custody work. Changing the order for parenting time is different. Read more about how to change parenting time.
Requirements for custody change
According to Ohio law, the Court can only make changes to a custody order if you can show that:
- There has been a “change in circumstances,” since the last custody order. There has to have been a change in the custodial parent or child’s life that has a direct, harmful impact on the child.
- Because of the “change in circumstances,” it is now in the child’s “best interest" that the custodial parent be changed. Questions the Court uses to understand the child's best interest are:
- Have the child’s wishes (if they are old enough) and relationships with parents, siblings and other family members been taken into account?
- Will the plan disrupt the child’s school life or involvement with their community?
- Are the parents mentally and physically healthy?
- Does either parent or member of their household have a criminal past?
- Is each parent committed to the plan, at least for now?
- Does either parent live outside of the state or have any plans to move?
- How will the children be supported financially?
- The move from one parent’s custody to the other has to cause more good than harm to the child.
If the Court has already considered an issue, and there hasn’t been a meaningful change since the last order, it cannot be considered again.
Some types of changes that might justify a change in custody include new circumstances related to:
- Abuse or neglect of the child — this could mean that the child's core needs like meals, safety, bathing and supervision are not being met
- Substance abuse
- Jail or criminal conviction
- Loss of job or income
How to start a custody change
A custody change can have a huge impact on your child and your family. If you’re trying to have your custody order changed, consider getting a lawyer if you can. This is especially true if you and the other parent don’t agree. Click on Legal Help and Lawyers to see legal resources in Montgomery County.
To start a custody change, you have to file a motion with the Court. Go to the “Motion for custody change” page to find the forms you need. Explain your proposed changes and why they meet the requirements above.
The standard Court forms have the information you need to include in your motion. You also can find the information in the Local Rules of Court (Rule 4.41(C)).
Follow these steps to file your forms with the Court:
- After you complete your forms, you will need to sign your documents in front of a notary. You can find a notary by searching on your browser for “a notary near me.” You can also wait to sign your papers until you get to the Court. The Court has staff who can notarize your forms for you.
- Drop off your completed, signed and notarized forms at the Court’s Compliance Office in Room 261.
- The Compliance Office will contact you after their review is complete. They will tell you if you need to make changes to your forms. Note: They usually contact you by phone, so make sure they have your correct phone number. If you need to make edits to your forms, they may ask you to come in to make the changes or may send you a letter describing the changes you need to make.
- If you need to make edits to your forms, read the letter from Compliance carefully and make the requested changes. Compliance allows you to make the edits directly on to the printed document by using white out and writing in blue ink the updated response or filling in ink a missing response. Do not cross out anything already on your forms, you must use white out to make corrections.
- After you make your changes, drop off your forms for review at the Compliance Office in Room 261 in the Courthouse. If you need to resign and notarize your forms, the Court has staff who can notarize your forms for you.
- Once your forms are approved for filing, you will get a call from the Compliance Office. Your forms will be available for pick up in the “pick up” bin at the Compliance Office.
- If you have questions, you can contact the Compliance Office at (937) 225-4782.
- Take your forms to the Clerk of Court’s Office. The Clerk of Court’s Office is located on the first floor in Room 104 of the Common Pleas Court Building, at 41 N. Perry Street. The Domestic Relations Court is connected to the Common Pleas Court Building through an indoor walkway, so you do not need to walk outside to get to the Clerk of Court’s Office.
- Give the clerk your forms and pay the filing fee (unless you have included a Poverty Affidavit / Fee Waiver with your forms). The filing fee is $200.
- Complete service. You must serve papers to the other parent. Follow up with the Clerk of Court's office after about 10 business days to make sure that service has been completed.
- Attend the hearing. Once the other parent is served, the Court will schedule a hearing. You must attend the hearing.
Pay attention to communications from the Court
After you or the other parent files the motion, the Court will schedule a hearing. Make sure to check your mail and respond promptly to any letters sent to you by the court. You must go to any hearing or meeting the Court schedules, or else the Court will likely rule in favor of the other parent.
At the hearing
If you and the other parent agree, you can both testify that you agree and why.
If you and the other parent don’t agree, you will need to present evidence to show that the child will be better off in your custody. This can include documents showing the “change in circumstances” or witnesses, like:
- School records for the child;
- Certified copy of judgment entry of conviction against your spouse (proof convicted of the crime);
- Certified copy of your child’s adjudication of delinquency;
- Financial information, including proof of income. Bring at least one of the following:
- A letter from your welfare office or employer
- Your paycheck stub and tax return
- Letter from the Social Security Administration
- Witnesses who will testify on your behalf about what they have personally seen or heard;
- You can testify on your own behalf.
The Court will look at this evidence to determine the best interests of the child. Present your evidence to show that the change in custody meets the legal requirement of "best interests of the child." Review the questions the Court uses to decide what’s in your child’s best interests above.
If the child is old enough, they can tell the Court what they want. You can ask the Judge to speak to the child alone in their office — that way the child can speak openly without you or the other parent hearing. The child is not allowed in the courtroom during the hearing. Make sure that you arrange for childcare in advance.
Sometimes the Court will decide it needs more information before a final ruling is made. In that case, a Court can order an investigation. Montgomery County Domestic Relations Court also offers mediation for custody disputes.
If you’re trying to have your custody order changed, it is important to get a lawyer if you can. This is especially true if you and the other parent don’t agree.