Family and Safety

Changing custody in Ohio

In Ohio, if you want to change a child custody order, you have to show a “change in circumstances.” Find out what that means and how custody changes work.

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Understanding the Basics

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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. This process can take between 3 months and 2 years to complete, depending on your situation.

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 Ohio custody change

A 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, it is important to get a lawyer if you can. This is especially true if you and the other parent don’t agree. You can find organizations that can connect you with a lawyer or other legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers." 

To start a custody change, you have to file a motion in 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. File them in the court where the original order was made. In the case of divorced parents, this is typically the domestic relations court, and in the case of parents who were never married, this is typically the juvenile court.

The court will schedule a hearing after you file. You must go to the hearing, or else the court will likely rule in favor of the other parent. Learn what to expect after you file a motion for change in custody. 

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