What to expect at a custody hearing

In Ohio, if you want to change an existing custody order, you have to go through the court. Learn more about what will happen after you file your motion to change custody.

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To start the process to change an existing custody order in Ohio, you must file a motion in court. From start to finish, this process can take between 3 months and 2 years. After you file a motion, the court will schedule a 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
    • A 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. 

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 child care 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. Some courts also offer 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.

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