Domestic Relations Court -
Domestic Relations Court is commonly referred to as Divorce Court. The jurisdiction of this court is for married couples who wish to terminate their marriage by Dissolution (by agreement) or Divorce (by decision of the court). Domestic Relations court will allocate parental rights and responsibilities (custody), determine parenting time (visitation), allocate assets and liabilities (divide any and all property of the marriage), determine child support and spousal support (alimony).Ohio statute sets forth the various applicable considerations for all of the subject matters listed above. The statutory considerations are extensive and subject specific.
Juvenile Court -
The jurisdiction of Juvenile Court is for unmarried or same sex couples who have children together. Juvenile Court will allocate parental rights and responsibilities (custody), determine parenting time (visitation) and determine child support. Unlike Domestic Relations Court (Divorce Court), unmarried couples do not accumulate assets and liabilities together. Therefore, Juvenile Court will only determine issues related to children listed above.
A Divorce is a law suit to terminate a marriage between a husband and Wife. One party files a complaint for Divorce against the other party charging them with one of the statutory grounds for divorce in the state of Ohio. The complaint also asks the Court to resolve any and all issues including, but not limited to, the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities (custody), determination of parenting time (visitation), allocation of assets and liabilities (divide any and all property of the marriage), determination of child support, spousal support (alimony) and any and all other issues which must be decided to accomplish a final resolution.
The court has a series of court dates that may issue orders concerning A) temporary custody, parenting time and support, B) discovery orders which pertain to the full disclosure of the assets and liabilities of the marriage, and C) final hearings regarding the permanent allocation of parental rights (custody), parenting time (visitation), division of the assets and liabilities (property) and determination of child and spousal support (alimony).
A formal action for Divorce does not preclude the parties from settling the Divorce outside of court by entering into a Separation Agreement (a contract that divides the property of the marriage by agreement of the parties) after the filing of the complaint. A Separation Agreement allows the parties to make their own determination of all of the property issues and avoids long court hearings which can be very costly. In addition, the parties can also enter into a Shared Parenting Plan (a contract resolving issues pertaining to the children) which is one type of custody that can be obtained through the Domestic Relations Court.
There are three means of accomplishing a termination of the marriage in the State of Ohio, a Divorce, Dissolution and Annulment. A Dissolution tends to be the most preferred and cost effective way to terminate a marriage. By using this method, both parties must, prior to filing an action for Dissolution of Marriage with the court, enter into a Separation Agreement and/or Shared Parenting Plan resolving any and all issues of the marriage, including but not limited to, the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities (custody), determination of parenting time (visitation), allocation of assets and liabilities (divide any and all property of the marriage), determination of child support, spousal support (alimony) and any and all other issues which must be decided to accomplish a final resolution.
When the Separation Agreement and/or Shared Parenting Plan have been fully signed, the parties file a joint petition with the court seeking the dissolution of their marriage. This method provides for an orderly and quick resolution of all matters and allows the parties to control their own destinies.There are three non-adversarial methods to negotiate a Dissolution of Marriage, Collaborative Law, Mediation or straight negotiation between the parties and/or their attorneys. These various methods are described under services provided here on this page.
There are many misconceptions as to what custody means when dealing with children. There are two main subject matters when referring to the term custody in a family law matter, 1) actual physical custody of the children (a parenting schedule for each parent), and 2) authority to make decisions for the children (decision making). More specifically, custody will determine when the children are with Mom and Dad and how parents will make the larger decisions for their children, i.e. school, non-emergency medical, extracurricular activities, and religious decisions.
There are two types of custody in the State of Ohio and additional misconceptions as to what they mean. Shared Parenting entitles parents to equal or joint decision making authority for the four decision making areas listed above. If the parents cannot agree upon a major decision for the children then they are required to attend mediation to attempt resolution. If they cannot agree to a decision through the mediation process then they can take the matter to court as a last resort. Each parent will present their case to a Magistrate or Judge and the court will impose a decision upon the parents and their children.
Sole custody allows one parent to make the major decisions of the children without the input of the other parent. Obtaining sole custody in Ohio is easier said than done. There is a preference of shared parenting in our state, but sole custody is not impossible. Normally, it takes more than a lack of communication or an inability to get along to obtain sole custody. Mental or physical limitations, drug or alcohol issues, or abuse and/or neglect matters are the most common instances when sole custody is awarded to one parent rather than shared parenting.
The laws of Ohio pertaining to custody are lengthy and in depth. Custody is one of the most complex and important issues in any family law matter. Your children are too precious to risk inadequate representation!
Visitation/Parenting Time -
Parenting time used to be commonly referred to as visitation. Parenting time is the schedule when the children are with Mother and Father. Parenting time includes the regular (daily or weekly) schedules for the children with each parent, but also includes extended (vacation) and holiday time as well. Schedules for the children must be determined in all shared parenting or sole custody matters.
Child Support -
Child support is relevant in any case involving children. If the parents are unmarried it is decided in Juvenile Court and if the parents are married it is determined in Domestic Relations court. Both courts follow the same Ohio statute to determine child support. Child support is generally awarded to the parent that has the child(ren) the majority of the time. If one parent has the child(ren) the majority of the time normally a child support formula is followed which is contained in the Ohio child support statute. The basic child support formula computes child support for a combined family income of up to $150,000. Families that have a combined income of greater than $150,000 are determined on a case by case and can be complicated.There are many factors that could affect the amount of child support to be paid, but the most common consideration that could lead to a deviation in the child support calculation is if the parties are approaching equal time with the children. Some of the other considerations that could affect child support are, including but not limited to, expenses paid for the children, special needs of the children, and tuition of the children. One common misconception is that shared parenting reduces the amount of child support to be paid by the person obligated to pay support. This is not accurate. Child support is usually paid until the child(ren) graduates from high school, but not to be paid past the age of nineteen. Child support is always modifiable if there is a change of circumstance among one of the parties, for example, a change of income. Like everything else in Family Law there are many nuances of the laws to be applied and each case must be determined individually.
Spousal Support/Alimony -
Spousal support, formerly known as Alimony, is one of the most complicated subject matters in Domestic Relations law! This type of support is awarded almost exclusively among spouses (married couples). Unlike child support there is no spousal support formula. Each spousal support case is determined on a case by case basis. For every spousal support matter the amount (how much) and duration (how long) must be determined and will vary among each case. Spousal support is not awarded simply by virtue of being married to one another. There are no less than fourteen (14) considerations in the spousal support statute. Some of the more common factors to be considered are, including but not limited to, length of marriage, earning abilities, disparity of incomes, ages and health of the parties. Spousal support can be modifiable or non-modifiable and there are important factors to consider whether modifiability is best for each persons situation.
Litigation Representation -
Litigation is when two parties contest their positions to a neutral third party, the court. Each party presents the merits of their case to the Judge or Magistrate who determines which side prevails. Although it is not required to have a lawyer represent you in a court matter, having a family law attorney available to assert your position is always recommended. Simply because someone is a attorney does not mean they are a family law attorney! This area of the law is very specific and requires a thorough understanding of family law.Family Law attorneys are educated in the laws applicable to Domestic Relations and Juvenile court. Attorneys spend years learning the law, applying it to each specific case and how to effectively submit the matter to the court. Custody and support matters need to be skillfully presented to the court. Effective direct examination, cross examination of the parties and expert witnesses are critical. In addition, the exchange of discovery (documents and information) is involved and specific to each case. Not all attorneys are effective litigators and some attorneys have never seen the inside of a court room. When choosing an attorney to represent you remember: a person does not go to a pediatrician if they have a heart condition. Similarly, do not assume all attorneys know family law, in fact, most do not. Make sure the attorney you choose has substantial experience with family law matters.
Collaborative Law -
Collaborative law is a means to obtain a dissolution of marriage and an alternative to a divorce in Domestic Relations Court. Collaborative practice is designed to minimize conflict while working toward resolution of all the family law subject matters. Husband and wife, their attorneys and any other professionals involved, agree to make a good faith attempt to reach a mutually acceptable settlement without going to court (a dissolution). Working together, everyone involved strive to dissolve the marriage in a way that addresses everyones legal, financial, and emotional needs.
Both spouses meet with their respective Collaborative attorneys to discuss individual needs and concerns. Then, the couple and their attorneys meet in four-way sessions to reach a settlement without involving the court. Every issue including property division, parenting allocation, and support is put on the table in these sessions. At times other professionals including Mental Health Professionals and Financial Experts may become part of the team to assist couples in reaching resolutions. Divorcing parties benefit from the skills, advice, and support of attorneys and other professionals while striving to work things out in a positive, more dignified manner.
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Mediation can be utilized to negotiate a dissolution of marriage and/or to resolve post divorce or post dissolution matters (modification of custody or support issues). Mediation is a voluntary process which provides a way for parties to end their marriage by negotiating the terms of their own settlement assisted by a skilled and neutral professional. The mediator does not represent husband or wife. The mediator brings both parties to the negotiating table and guides them through a process that allows husband and wife to reach their own settlement terms rather than have the court impose a court ordered determination among them.Mediators may refer their clients to family law attorneys for consultation throughout the mediation process, in the secure knowledge that the attorneys to whom they refer will honor their client's wish to remain in control of the process and their outcomes. Typically far less attorney time and cost is involved. The family savings need not be depleted. Mediation is another way to helping families find a better way towards an agreeable resolution to their family issues.
Guardian Ad Litem -
I have been performing as a Guardian Ad Litem since the mid-1990s. Like many other terms and topics in family law there are many misconceptions as to what the role and responsibilities are of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Many people believe the GAL is the court appointed attorney for the children or that they are supposed to simply convey to the court the wishes of the child(ren). Although the GAL is to advance the best interest of the child(ren), the GAL is not the attorney for the child(ren), but can file motions with the court if the GAL deems it necessary. The GAL is to champion the best interest of the child(ren) for whom the guardian is appointed. Recommendations that are in the best interest of the child(ren) may be inconsistent with the wishes of the child whose best interest the GAL is to protect. Often the child(ren) are not capable (due to their age, disability, etc) to know what is in their best interest, but if the child(ren) are capable then a GAL shall consider the wishes of the child(ren) when making their recommendation(s) to the court.
Most often the GAL conducts their own investigation regarding the topic before the court, i.e. a custody matter and/or a parenting time/visitation schedule matter. The court can choose to follow the recommendation(s) of the GAL in full, in part or ignore them altogether. In my opinion, the court seriously considers the recommendations of the GAL, especially if the GAL is an experienced family law attorney.