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Domestic Relations & Family Law

Fanger & Associates LLC, An Ohio Law Firm

Family Law

The family is the basic unit of society. The family ensures the biological and cultural continuation of society. The inherent importance of the family requires that the law establish rights and duties for family members (generally, parents and their children), and a process through which these rights and duties may be enforced. Further, because of the importance of the family and the relative inequality of power of the members of the family, the state is deeply involved in the establishment of rights and duties and in their enforcement. For example, the state through a court approves, or grants, a divorce or dissolution of marriage.

The parties to a marriage cannot merely split up. They must make provision for their children and address the property and support aspects of the termination of their relationship. The rights and duties of the people involved in the family and the process of enforcing these rights and duties are often grouped together under the term "family law."

Marriage is a three-way contract to which the husband, the wife, and the state are parties.

When a man and woman marry they take one of the most important steps in their lives. They are entering into a deeply personal relationship which has long-term, if not lifetime, responsibilities. Moreover, they are assuming the heavy obligations of a family; each accepts responsibility for the other's well-being, and for the well-being of their children. Marriage should be undertaken rationally and with forethought.

Premarriage counseling can have important benefits. If the prospective bride and groom are both 18 or older, premarriage counseling is not mandatory. From a practical perspective, premarriage counseling might be advisable for all couples regardless of their age or prior marriages. If either of the parties is under 18, Ohio law requires that the couple have premarriage counseling. Conferences with an experienced counselor can help prepare the couple to cope with the problems which arise in any marriage.

Premarriage counseling is available from a number of sources. Couples affiliated with a church or synagogue can arrange the counseling with their minister, priest, or rabbi. (Some religious bodies require premarriage counseling.) Premarriage counseling is also available from many social agencies, and from professional marriage or family counselors. The probate court can provide information about local sources for premarriage counseling.

When a couple exchange marriage vows they make mutual promises which constitute a binding contract. Under the law, the state is automatically a party to the contract. The state is a party because of the importance of the family, the relative inequality of power of the members of the family within the family structure, and because the ordinary methods used to enforce contracts do not work with a marriage contract. For example, while a court could order a spouse to show love and affection to his or her partner, the order would be useless if the underlying relationship does not exist. Similarly, a court can order payment of child support or grant visitation rights, but the orders would often be unenforceable without the power of the state. The presence of the state as a party to the agreement helps ensure enforcement of the agreement, and protects the state's, and society's, interests. The contract has "third party beneficiaries," namely children, whose rights the court must enforce.

Under Ohio law unmarried men 18 or older and unmarried women 16 or older are competent (have the legal capacity) to enter into the marriage contract. If a person is under 18, the consent of his or her parents, guardian, or custodian must be obtained. Parental consent is unnecessary where the parent whose consent would be required: (1) lives in a foreign country; (2) has neglected or abandoned the minor who wishes to marry; (3) is an inmate in a mental or penal institution; or (4) has been deprived of custody of the minor by a court which had jurisdiction to make such a decision. In addition, a woman who is under 16 and pregnant may obtain permission to marry from the juvenile court. Please note that the juvenile court is not required to grant permission.

If a party to a marriage is already married, he or she is incompetent to enter into another marriage. A married person who knowingly enters into another marriage is a bigamist. Bigamy is a crime and the purported subsequent marriage is invalid. Even though such a marriage is invalid, Ohio law permits the injured party to obtain a divorce or annulment. A court-ordered divorce or annulment officially terminates such a relationship and helps resolve questions of spousal support, legitimacy of children, and child support.

A marriage cannot be solemnized (that is, completed by means of a marriage ceremony) unless the parties have a license. A license is obtained by making an application in the probate court of the county where either party resides or in the county where the ceremony is to be performed. The court will not grant the license immediately. It must wait five days before issuing the license. (The court can wait 30 days.) The five-day period is known informally as the "waiting period." Most states have such a waiting period (three or five days is usual), to discourage "quickie" marriages and so-called "marriage mills."

Marriage licenses are not issued to any person who, at the time of the application, is under the influence of alcohol or a drug of abuse, or who is suffering from syphilis in a form which is communicable or likely to become so. A blood test is not necessary to obtain a marriage license.

Once issued, a marriage license is valid for 60 days. Considering the time limits on the issuance of a license and the 60-day "life" of a license, couples planning marriage should consider making their application two or three weeks before the date set for the wedding.

Under Ohio law, a marriage may be solemnized in various ways. The law does not state the actual words of the marriage ceremony. In Ohio, a marriage is solemnized by a person authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. Authorized persons include: (1) regular clergymen (who have a license to solemnize marriages issued by the Secretary of State); (2) municipal court, county court, and probate court judges; (3) mayors; and (4) the Superintendent of the State School for the Deaf. Further, a religious society, in accordance with the discipline of its church, may perform a marriage. (The provision allowing solemnization by a religious society recognizes the practice of certain denominations where the marriage ceremony consists essentially of the bride and groom publicly exchanging their marriage promises and proclaiming to the congregation that they are husband and wife.) The person performing the marriage ceremony must sign the marriage certificate and file the certificate with the probate court within 30 days after the ceremony.

Historically, the law has recognized two methods of establishing the marital relationship and has called these methods "ceremonial marriage" and "common-law marriage." We have all seen ceremonial marriages in the sense that we have attended weddings or seen theatrical portrayals of weddings in the movies or on television. In ceremonial marriages, the bride and groom obtain a license from the probate court, the marriage ceremony is conducted by a person authorized by the state and, once the ceremony is finished, the certificate of marriage is completed and filed with the probate court.

A common-law marriage is established by the conduct of the parties. It is not dependent on an official license, ceremony, or certificate. In the past, Ohio recognized common-law marriages. "Recognized" means that Ohio allowed persons who claimed to have entered into a common-law marriage the opportunity of proving that such a marriage did exist. Once a court-or sometimes an agency-decided that the person claiming marriage had offered sufficient proof, the common-law marriage was established, at least for the purposes of that court or agency.

Ohio no longer recognizes common-law marriages. Specifically, Ohio will not allow the proof of common-law marriage in relationships that were entered into in Ohio on and after October 10, 1991. In some circumstances, Ohio will allow the proof of common-law marriage based on a relationship entered into in another state which recognizes, or recognized, the relationship.

Even though a common-law marriage cannot result from relationships entered into in Ohio on and after October 10, 1991, the effects of common-law marriage will linger for years. Because of these long-lasting effects, common-law marriage requires some additional explanation. As stated above, a common-law marriage must be proven. Proof of a ceremonial marriage is generally simple: a person's statement that she is married and has not been divorced, and a certified copy of the certificate of marriage are generally the only proof required. A common-law marriage is much more difficult to prove; it must be proven by the course of conduct of the parties. In summary, the elements of a marriage contract have to be proven. Basically, three things must be proven to establish a common-law marriage: (1) competence to marry (both parties must have been the appropriate age and not married to another); (2) an agreement between the man and woman that they are husband and wife; (3) cohabitation; (4) the couple has held themselves out as man and wife; and (5) a reputation in the community as being man and wife.

The question of the existence of a common-law marriage usually arises when one of the parties dies and the surviving party claims a right of a surviving spouse. For example, the surviving party makes a claim for inheritance, Social Security, insurance, or workers' compensation. As stated above, proving a common-law marriage was often difficult.

Family Rights and Obligations

Ohio law establishes a variety of rights and duties for husbands and wives concerning their relations with one another and with their children. Similarly, the law establishes a variety of rights and duties for children concerning their relations with their parents.

The basic responsibilities of husband and wife are stated succinctly by an Ohio statute: "Husband and wife contract towards each other obligations of mutual respect, fidelity, and support."

Each spouse has the duty to support: himself or herself; the other spouse; and their minor children. If a married person neglects to support his or her spouse, any person who in good faith provides "necessaries" to the neglected spouse may hold the neglecting spouse civilly liable for the value of necessaries. "Necessaries" are generally defined as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Similarly, where a parent fails to support a minor child, any person who in good faith provides necessaries to the child may hold the parent civilly liable for the value of the necessaries.

The obligation of support placed on spouses can result in substantial liability. For example, a surviving spouse may be held liable for the enormous medical expenses incurred during the lingering last illness of her husband, even though the surviving spouse and the medical providers did not have a formal contract.

A husband and wife stand on an equal footing with respect to personal and property rights. With certain limited exceptions, each may own and dispose of property as if unmarried. Each has the right to enter into contracts without the other. Neither can be excluded from the family home, except by court order. Neither can be held to answer for the acts of the other merely because of their relationship.

Under the older versions of the common law, a wife had few rights apart from her husband. When a woman married, most of her property became her husband's and she was almost totally under his domination. Under the older versions of the common law, a husband could, within certain limits, beat his wife. Today, wife beating, or husband beating, is punishable as a criminal assault (domestic violence).

Parents are obliged to support their children. The obligation to provide support includes, for example: ensuring that the children have food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; ensuring that they attend school; supervising their behavior and using appropriate discipline when necessary to achieve proper conduct; and fostering and protecting their physical, mental, and moral well-being. The improper failure to meet any of these obligations may result in various kinds of criminal and civil liability for the parents.

In a practical sense, the basic obligation of parents to children is to provide adequate support, at least until the children are through high school. The question of what is "adequate support" must be answered on an individual basis. The law recognizes that "adequacy" depends upon ability and financial resources. In summary, support is adequate if the parents are doing the best they can given their particular circumstances.

It must be stressed that the legal obligation to support children applies whether the parents are married to each other, married to someone else, or never married at all, and regardless of whether the parent has custody of the children. Nonsupport of children is a criminal offense.

The obligation to provide child support may be enforced through any of various court actions. An action may be brought by the mother of an illegitimate child to force the father to provide support. Other actions may be brought in connection with divorce, dissolution of marriage, annulment, or spousal support lawsuits, or brought by a welfare agency. The State of Ohio is a party to an interstate compact to facilitate the enforcement of support obligations of out-of-state parents.

Just as parents have important responsibilities to their children, children have reciprocal responsibilities to their parents. Children should respect their parents and perform, within their abilities, the family duties which are asked of them. They have the duty to: (1) obey their parents, teachers, and others in authority over them; (2) apply themselves the best they can to mastering the instruction and schooling given them; and (3) behave according to acceptable standards.

Children are also obliged to support their parents under certain circumstances. When a parent has insufficient financial resources for his or her own support and is unable to earn his or her support because of sickness or old age, an adult child must provide adequate support to the parent. As with parents' obligation to support minor children, this obligation is conditioned by the adult child's ability and financial means. The obligation of a child to support his parent does not apply if the parent abandoned the child or failed in his or her obligation of support to the child.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, effective August 1993, is designed to protect the job security and benefits of employees who must temporarily leave their employment to care for family members or to recover from serious illness. In general, the law requires employers to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to nurse or care for newborn, adopted, or foster children; to nurse seriously ill parents, spouses, or children; or to recover from serious illness. The law guarantees unpaid leave although employers may require employees to use vacation or other paid leave as part of the 12-week period.

All employers who have employed 50 or more persons on each workday of 20 or more work weeks of the calendar year in which leave is requested (or the prior calendar year) are covered by the law. Only employees who have worked for an employer for one year and also worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer within the 12-month period immediately preceding the request for leave are eligible for leave.

Where the need for leave is foreseeable and based on the serious health condition of an employee, the employee must give the employer at least 30 days' notice and must make a reasonable effort to schedule treatment so that the absence does not unduly disrupt the employer's business. If the need for leave does not allow 30 days notice, the employee must notify the employer as soon as practicable.

Employers may require certain medical proofs and must maintain all employees' benefits at their normal level during their leave. If an employee willfully fails to return to employment, the employer may bring an action to recover the cost of maintaining the employee's benefits.

Employees suffering from serious health conditions may, if medically necessary, take their leave intermittently or pursuant to a reduced work schedule. Employers may, within certain limitations, transfer such an employee to a different position during the employee's use of recurring leave.

In general, employers must restore all employees who use leave under the law to the employees' former positions. There is an exception to this general rule. Employers need not restore certain highly compensated employees to their former positions if such restoration would cause grievous economic injury to the employer and the employer notifies the employee that restoration will not be granted before the leave begins.

Minors and Their Rights

For most purposes, 18 is the age at which a person is considered an adult. Persons under 18 are called "children," "minors," or "juveniles." While minors have many personal rights, they do not have all the rights of adults.

The age at which a child ("minor" or "juvenile") becomes an adult is known as the "age of majority." Under federal law, everyone becomes an adult for voting purposes upon the attainment of age 18. In Ohio, 18 is the age of majority not only for voting but for most other purposes. The major exception to the 18-year rule is found in the liquor control laws. Persons under 21 are not permitted to purchase any alcoholic beverage.

Under the law, minors are treated differently from adults in many situations. While there are probably many reasons for this different treatment, there are two primary reasons: (1) protection of the minor; and (2) protection of society. The first reason is obvious. Minors generally lack the knowledge, experience, and ability to truly fend for themselves; it is basically unfair to treat minors as adults.

When viewed from the perspective of society, the second reason is also obvious. It is unfair to society to have to rely on untrained and inexperienced people. In order to protect itself, society has established certain requirements. The standard methods that society uses to determine competence are experience, education, and licensure.

Certain rights may not apply to minors in quite the same way as they apply to adults. Very young children are not criminally liable, and older children are accorded different treatment from adults for criminal acts. An example of how minors are treated differently from adults in criminal law is the definition of the offense of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

In July 1990, Ohio adopted a separate and lower level of alcohol concentration, or content, for minors in the definition of the offense of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. A person under age 18 is allowed substantially less alcohol concentration than an adult. One rationale for the lower alcohol concentration allowed for minors could be that under the law minors are not allowed to purchase any alcoholic beverages.

Apart from the criminal law, minors may be subject to more, and different, controls on their behavior than adults. Minors must have parental permission to do certain things-for example, minors generally need parental permission to marry, or to obtain medical treatment. Although minors can own property, it is often necessary that a guardian hold and manage such property. The right of minors to enter into contracts is limited. Minors are barred from certain occupations, and their employment in other occupations is subject to legal controls on child labor. Some licenses cannot be granted to minors. Other licenses, such as a driver's license, can be granted to minors only under certain conditions. The ability of minors, especially very young children, to act as witnesses in court is limited.

Parents can be held responsible or liable to the extent of $10,000 for acts of their children involving willful damage to property or willful and malicious assaults on a person.

With a few major exceptions, minors have the same constitutional rights as adults. Minors do not have complete freedom of speech and assembly under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. For example, the state can limit access to books, magazines, movies, and other materials which adults can freely obtain, see, or possess. Ohio law places restrictions on matter which is not obscene from an adult viewpoint, but which is nevertheless considered unsuitable for juveniles.

Minors cannot freely keep and bear arms. Under federal and Ohio law, minors cannot buy a firearm of any kind, and persons under 21 cannot buy a handgun. Minors under 16 cannot hunt without an accompanying adult. Except for lawful hunting, minors of any age cannot have firearms unless the firearms are used for purposes of instruction in firearms safety, care, handling, or marksmanship under competent adult supervision.

Searches and seizures which would be unconstitutional if they involved an adult may be constitutional when they involve a juvenile. For example, the summary search of school lockers may be proper under certain circumstances. Teachers may confiscate weapons, drugs, and other dangerous items from pupils-indeed, teachers may have a positive duty to confiscate such items.

A minor accused of juvenile delinquency may be detained without bail prior to trial (adjudicatory hearing) where the court finds that there is a serious risk that the minor would commit an act which would be a crime if committed by an adult. (A minor does not have the right to bail in a juvenile proceeding.) A minor may be deprived of his liberty for actions which would not be criminal if committed by an adult. For example, a minor who engages in sexual relations may be subject to commitment to a juvenile institution as an unruly child. Finally, a minor does not have the right of jury trial in juvenile proceedings.

Minors do have certain rights which at least partially offset the absence of the right to bail. For example, the law favors release of minors to their parents. A minor must be kept separate from adults and must be given a "detention hearing" within the earlier of 12 hours from admission or the next court day after admission. Further, a minor who is held after the detention hearing must be kept separate from adults and is entitled to an adjudicatory hearing (trial) within ten days of the filing of the complaint.

With some exceptions, minors do not have full rights to enter into contracts. If a minor does enter into a contract with an adult, the contract may be canceled or honored at the minor's option. In general, if a minor voluntarily complies with the terms of a contract, the contract will be binding on the minor as well as the adult. If a minor elects to cancel a contract because of he or she is not 18 years of age, the minor should take action to cancel the contract before becoming 18. However, a minor cannot cancel a contract where cancellation would cause an unfair result or allow the minor to benefit from the minor's own wrongdoing. For example, a minor cannot purchase a car, wreck it, then cancel the contract and expect to be relieved of the obligation to pay for the car.

Finally, there are some situations where a minor can enter into a binding contract and not have the right of cancellation. These situations generally involve contracts for "necessaries." As stated above, necessaries are generally defined as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. The minor's parents may be held liable on contracts for necessaries. Contracts for medical care raise special questions and are addressed below.

While the general rule is that minors cannot be given medical treatment without parental permission, there are major exceptions to the rule. First, permission for treatment need not be obtained in an emergency. Second, a minor age 16 or over may voluntarily commit himself to a mental hospital for treatment for mental illness arising from drug abuse. Third, a minor of any age can obtain medical treatment for any condition arising from drug abuse, or for venereal disease. Fourth, pregnant minors may have abortions.

Ohio has a parental notification law which is applicable where unemancipated pregnant minors seek abortions. A simplified summary of that law is stated below.

The Ohio parental notification law defines an unemancipated pregnant minor as a woman under 18 years of age who has not entered the armed services, has not been employed and self-subsisting, or has not been otherwise independent from the care and control of her parents, guardian, or custodian. Under the law, an unemancipated pregnant minor must notify at least one parent, or her guardian or custodian, of her intention to have an abortion. If the parent, guardian, or custodian consents in writing, the minor may have the abortion. In certain circumstances, the minor may avoid notice to her parents, guardian, or custodian by requesting that notice be given to a sister or brother who is 21 years old, or to a stepparent or grandparent. Further, in certain circumstances, the minor may avoid giving notice to anyone.

Where notice is to be given to a sister, brother, stepparent, or grandparent, or there will not be any notice, the minor must file an application with the juvenile court. Forms for making the application are available from juvenile courts without charge.

Where notice is to be given, the application must specify the person to whom notice should be given and be accompanied by an affidavit which states that the applicant is in fear of physical, sexual, or severe emotional abuse from her parent, guardian, or custodian and that her fear is based on a pattern of physical, sexual, or severe emotional abuse exhibited by the parent, guardian, or custodian.

Where the minor wishes to avoid any notice, the application must be accompanied by an affidavit which states that she is in fear of physical, sexual, or severe emotional abuse from her parent, guardian, or custodian or other person who would otherwise receive notice. Other affidavits may be filed.

In those cases where the parent, guardian, or custodian is not given notice, the juvenile court must consider the application. The entire process is confidential, and filing fees or court costs may not be assessed against an applicant.

The juvenile court will issue an order authorizing an abortion without notice to the parents, guardian, or custodian where the court finds that: (1) the minor is sufficiently mature and well enough informed to intelligently decide to have an abortion without notifying a parent, guardian, or custodian; or (2) the minor's parents, guardian, or custodian have demonstrated a pattern of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and that under the circumstances, notification would not be in the best interest of the minor. If the court does not hold a hearing within five business days after the filing of the application, the failure to hold a hearing is considered a constructive order consenting to the abortion. Further, the court must enter its judgment (make its decision) immediately after the hearing. If the court does not grant consent it must dismiss the application. The applicant may appeal such a dismissal.

Finally, this area of the law is in flux. Federal legislation may be imminent.

Because of the confidential relationship between doctor and patient, a doctor is not bound to inform the parents that she is treating their child. The parents are not bound to pay for treatments unless they consent to them.

Finally, there is some case law in Ohio that a minor can consent to any kind of medical treatment as soon as he has reached sufficient age and discretion to understand the consequences of consent. This case law applies not only to necessary but to elective treatment, such as cosmetic surgery. As a practical matter, doctors seldom treat a minor without parental consent, except in the situations described above.

Juvenile Delinquency, Unruly Children, And Juvenile Traffice Offenders

In Ohio, the juvenile court takes the place of the adult criminal justice system for minors who commit offenses or present behavior problems. The court also has jurisdiction over neglected and dependent children. The court has a wide range of options in dealing with children. Its dispositions (sentences, fines, treatment orders) can, in general, be tailored to meet the needs of the particular child. In addition, the court may deal with adults guilty of neglecting, abusing, or contributing to the delinquency of minors.

In 1902, Ohio became the fifth state to create a juvenile court. Before the juvenile court existed, children as young as age seven were considered criminally responsible and, if convicted, were treated exactly the same as adult offenders. The main emphasis of the juvenile court's work is helping juveniles in trouble and not on punishment as such.

The juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction over delinquent and unruly children, juvenile traffic offenders, and neglected, dependent, and abused children. When a minor is accused of a crime, whether serious or petty, the general rule is that the minor can be tried and dealt with only in the juvenile court. Under certain circumstances, a minor may be transferred to the common pleas court for trial and punishment as an adult. Adults accused of contributing to the delinquency or neglect of a minor are tried in the juvenile court. Other adult crimes against minors, such as nonsupport, may be tried in the juvenile court as well as in other courts. The juvenile court also has the power to determine and provide for custody and care of neglected, dependent, or abused children. This power is subject to the authority of the domestic relations court to determine custody and support questions in divorce and similar cases, and to the authority of the probate court in guardianship and adoption proceedings. The juvenile court also has the power to consent to the marriage of pregnant minors under 16, and to consent to abortions for pregnant unemancipated minors.

Minors may be taken into custody for various reasons. For example, they may be taken into custody: (1) because they committed an offense; (2) pursuant to the order of a juvenile court; or (3) because there is reason to believe they are runaways, suffering from illness or injury and not receiving proper care, or are in immediate danger from their surroundings.

After a minor is taken into custody, the minor may be released to parents, guardian, or custodian on their written promise to bring the minor to court when required. If the minor is not brought to the court hearing, the court may issue a warrant compelling the parents, guardian, or custodian to bring the child to court. If it appears that a minor taken into custody should be detained or given shelter care, the minor may be placed temporarily in a detention home, children's home, juvenile shelter, or other suitable facility, or with a temporary custodian. Detention is not favored under the juvenile law. Detention (including shelter care) is used only where: (1) it is necessary to protect the person or property of the minor or of others; (2) the minor may run away or be removed from the court's jurisdiction; (3) there is no suitable person to supervise and care for the minor; or (4) the court determines that detention is in the minor's best interest.

A child alleged to be delinquent, unruly, or a juvenile traffic offender may be detained in a jail only if there is no available juvenile detention home or similar facility. In such cases, the child must be kept in a separate room where the child cannot come in contact with adult offenders. A neglected or dependent child who is detained cannot be kept in jail under any circumstances without a specific court order authorizing such detention.

A "delinquent child" is one: who commits any act (other than a juvenile traffic offense) which would be a crime under state, municipal, or federal law if committed by an adult, or who fails to obey an order of a juvenile court. A child whose act would be a traffic offense is a "juvenile traffic offender." See "Juvenile Traffic Offenders" below. For example, a child charged with murder and a child charged with disorderly conduct are both charged with "delinquency." If the court finds that they committed the acts charged they would both be adjudged "delinquents." Obviously, the seriousness of the offense will affect the disposition (sentence, fine, treatment, or order) that the court imposes. Further, where there is a heinous offense, the court may transfer the child to the common pleas court to be tried and punished as an adult.

The portion of the basic definition which states that a delinquent child is one who disobeys an order of the juvenile court can be very important. For example, the court may treat a child who has been adjudged either as an "unruly child" or a "juvenile traffic offender" as a delinquent if the child fails to comply with the conditions of probation. In such a situation, the court could use the dispositions it normally uses for delinquents. These dispositions include the most stringent sanctions that the court can impose on minors.

Trial procedure in juvenile court is less formal than in other courts. However, the power of the court is obvious. The court building is a secure place served by the sheriff and the police. Detention facilities, and often shelter care facilities, are secure and limit the freedom of their inhabitants. The court's dispositions can have dramatic effects on the freedom and life of the minor, and upon the minor's family.

Juveniles have most of the rights of adults charged with criminal offenses. For example, in delinquency proceedings a minor has the right to: (1) be represented by counsel (if the minor or the minor's parents cannot afford an attorney, the state will provide an attorney); (2) have a clear and explicit statement of the offense; (3) have the state prove each of the elements of the offense beyond reasonable doubt; and (4) have applicable rights explained at significant stages of the proceeding. A minor does not have the right to jury trial or the right to bail.

If a minor is found to be delinquent, the court has many options in its disposition of the minor. The court's options include, among others: (1) allowing the child to stay at home but placing the child on probation; (2) requiring restitution; (3) sending the child to a school, camp, institution, or other facility; (4) for certain offenses, sending the child to a facility operated by the Ohio Department of Youth Services for a minimum period of six months, one year, or the attainment of age 21 (the juvenile court's jurisdiction over minors and thus its dispositions for minors terminate upon the minor's attainment of age 21); (5) revoking the child's operator's license; (6) suspending or revoking the registration of all motor vehicles registered in the child's name; (7) in certain cases imposing a period of electronically monitored detention; (8) in certain cases requiring forfeiture; (9) in certain cases requiring attendance at a drug or alcohol abuse program; (10) imposing a fine not to exceed $50 and assessing court costs; and (11) if the child suffers from psychological problems or developmental problems, making the appropriate commitment to obtain treatment.

In serious cases, and under limited circumstances, the juvenile court may transfer a minor to the common pleas court for trial and punishment as an adult. In general, transfer is permitted only where: the minor was 15, 16, or 17 when the offense occurred; the offense would be a felony if committed by an adult; there is probable cause to believe the minor committed the offense; after full investigation, including mental and physical examinations, the juvenile court finds that the minor is (1) not amenable to the rehabilitation that can be provided in any facility for juvenile delinquents, and (2) the safety of the community may require that the minor be placed under legal restraint, including restraint after the minor attains age 21.

As a practical matter, transfers are made only in very serious cases in which the accused minor has a long history of delinquency. Note that a transfer may be made only where the minor was 15, 16, or 17 and the offense would be a felony if committed by an adult. Under the above general rule, minors under 15 cannot be transferred even if the offense would be a felony. Similarly, minors of any age who commit misdemeanors cannot be transferred. (A minor who has been transferred to, and convicted in, common pleas court will be treated as an adult if subsequently charged with certain serious offenses.)

A special rule applies to minors who are accused of an offense which would be aggravated murder or murder if committed by an adult. Under the special rule, the court must transfer the minor to the appropriate common pleas court for trial, and possible punishment, as an adult if the court, after an appropriate hearing, finds that: (1) there is probable cause to believe the minor committed the offense; and (2) the minor previously had been adjudicated a delinquent for the commission of an offense which would have been aggravated murder or murder if committed by an adult. Under the special rule, the age of the minor is not a factor. The current charge and the past adjudication are the pivotal issues.

A minor may be adjudged an "unruly child" for a variety of reasons, including: (1) waywardness or persistent disobedience; (2) habitual truancy from home or school; (3) conduct which injures or endangers the minor's, or another's, health or morals; (4) attempting to marry without proper consent; (5) being in a disreputable place, or a place from which minors are excluded by law; (6) associating with vagrant, vicious, criminal, notorious, or immoral persons; or (7) violating a law applicable only to minors.

A child who is adjudged to be unruly may be dealt with in a number of ways. For example, the court may use any of the dispositions available for neglected, dependent, or abused children. These dispositions include, among others, placement with parents under conditions designed to insure proper care, supervision, and behavior; or placement in the temporary or permanent custody of a children services agency or approved private agency; probation with conditions established by the court; suspension or revocation of the child's operator's license and the registration of all vehicles registered in the child's name. If the court finds that its original disposition is not effective because the child is not amenable to treatment or rehabilitation, the court may use any of the dispositions available for delinquents. Further, where the offense would have been a drug abuse offense, or disorderly conduct while intoxicated if committed by an adult, the court may require the child to participate in a drug or alcohol abuse counseling program and suspend or revoke the child's operator's license until the child is 18, or successfully completes an approved drug or alcohol abuse treatment program.

A "juvenile traffic offender" is a child who violates any state, municipal, or federal law or regulation governing vehicular traffic. Numerous dispositions are available to the court. In general, the court must consider the various dispositions in the order in which they are presented in the statute. Initially, the court must consider the offenses and the dispositions summarized in the following table.

Offense if committed by an adult (violation) Disposition (sentence, fine, treatment)

Operation of a motor vehicle without a restraining device, or in which a front seat passenger is not using a restraining device. Appropriate fine established by statute.

Riding in a motor vehicle as a front seat passenger without a restraining device. Appropriate fine established by statute (where child is under 16, no fine but child may be placed on probation).

Drug abuse; disorderly conduct while intoxicated; and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, or a drug of abuse, or alcohol and a drug of abuse. Suspension or revocation of operator's license until the child is 18, or, in the court's discretion, until the child successfully completes an approved drug or alcohol abuse treatment program.

Operation of a motor vehicle while having a higher alcohol level than permitted by a person under 18 (See Part X, at "Minors In General"). Same as above, except the suspension or revocation of operator's license for the shorter of 60 days or the child's reaching 18. The court may also use the following dispositions for juvenile traffic offenders: (1) impose a maximum fine of $50 plus costs; (2) suspend or revoke the child's operator's license or the registration of motor vehicles registered in the child's name; (3) place the child on probation; (4) require the child to make restitution for part or all of the damages caused by the offense; (5) place the child in the temporary custody of an approved facility, including a camp or school, for a period of five days where the child was adjudged a juvenile traffic offender under the state statute or a substantially similar municipal ordinance for an offense which would have been operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or alcohol and a drug of abuse if committed by an adult.

Neglected, Dependent, and Abused Children

A "neglected child" is one: (1) who has been abandoned; (2) who lacks proper care because of the faults or habits of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian; (3) whose parents, guardian, or custodian neglect or refuse to provide proper or necessary subsistence, education, medical or surgical care or treatment, or other care necessary for the child's health, morals, or well-being; (4) whose parents, guardian, or custodian neglect or refuse to provide the special care required by the child's mental condition; (5) whose parents, guardian, or custodian illegally gave, or attempted to give, custody of the child to another; (6) who, because of the omission of its parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms, or threatens to harm, the child's health or welfare; or (7) who is subjected to neglect.

The statute which defines a "neglected child" specifically states that the law does not make the failure of a parent, guardian, or custodian to provide adequate medical or surgical care, or treatment to a child a criminal offense where the failure was based solely upon religious belief. However, the statute continues and states that even where the failure to provide adequate medical or surgical care or treatment is based on religious belief, that failure to provide such care must be reported, and that the state or political subdivision will ensure that children are given the required medical or surgical care or treatment. In summary, the statute states that a person's religious beliefs regarding child care and medical treatment will not be used as a basis for criminal liability but the fact that a child is not receiving proper care must be reported, and that such a child will, if necessary, be given proper care despite the parents', guardian's, or custodian's religious beliefs.

The concept of dependency is similar to that of neglect, except that in dependency the child's condition or situation is not, in general, the fault of the parents, guardian, or custodian. A "dependent child" is one: who is homeless, destitute, or without proper care or support through no fault of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian; who lacks proper care or support because of the mental or physical condition of the child's parents, guardian, or custodian; whose condition or environment is such that the state must assume the guardianship of the child; or who (1) resides in a household where another member of the household has abused or neglected a sibling of the child and (2) is in danger of being abused or neglected.

An "abused child" is one: (1) who is the victim of sexual activity which would constitute an offense under the criminal law; (2) who is endangered as defined in the criminal law; (3) who exhibits evidence of any intentionally caused physical injury, mental injury, or an injury or death which does not comport with the explanation offered for the injury or death; (4) who, because of the acts of its parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms or threatens to harm the child's health or welfare; or (5) who is subjected to abuse while out of the home.

The sexual activity mentioned above includes: (1) vaginal intercourse between a male and a female; (2) anal intercourse; (3) fellatio and cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex; or (4) any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation, the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if a person is a female, a breast, for the purpose or arousing or gratifying either person. Common offenses involving prohibited sexual activity are: (1) rape; (2) sexual battery; (3) corruption of a minor; and (4) sexual imposition. It is important to note that the conviction of the person who committed the offense is not required for the court to determine that the minor involved in the sexual activity is an abused child.

The definition of child abuse also incorporates the criminal offense of endangering children. Under Ohio law, the offense of "endangering children" covers not only physical abuse, but several other acts as well. First, the offense may be committed by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person standing in place of a parent (such as a teacher, scoutmaster, or babysitter) who places a child in imminent danger of serious harm by violating a duty of care, protection, or support. Second, the offense may be committed by anyone through torture or cruelty, or by administering excessive physical punishment or restraint in a cruel manner or for prolonged periods so as to create an imminent risk of serious harm to the child, or by repeatedly administering unwarranted discipline to the child when such conduct, if continued, involves a high risk of impairing or retarding the child's mental health or development. Third, the offense can be committed by anyone enticing, permitting, encouraging, compelling, employing, or allowing a minor to participate in any way in the development, advertisement, or presentation of any material or performance that is obscene, sexually oriented, or nudity oriented. Fourth, the offense can be committed by anyone allowing, encouraging, or forcing a child to solicit for prostitution, or to engage in prostitution.

Child abuse based on the offense of endangering children is normally a misdemeanor. However, endangering which results in serious physical harm to the child is a felony. The statutory definition of "serious physical harm" includes mental illness as well as serious physical illness or injury. Endangering may be tried in any court having jurisdiction, including juvenile court, but felony cases must be tried in common pleas court. It is important to note that the conviction of the person who committed the offense is not required for the juvenile court to determine that the minor involved is an abused child. A child who has been physically disciplined by a parent, guardian, or custodian is not an abused child if the discipline is not forbidden by the child-endangering laws.

The definition of child abuse also includes a provision which encompasses the battered child syndrome. For example, a child may show physical injury or mental injury that appears to have been intentionally inflicted or which is inconsistent with the explanation of the injury offered by the child, parent, guardian, custodian, or others. Doctors, dentists, nurses, other health care professionals, child care professionals, and teachers, attorneys, and others commonly in contact with children are required to report suspected cases of child abuse to law enforcement authorities. Further, Ohio law requires that anyone who knows that a felony has been committed to report the basic facts to law enforcement authorities. Because serious child abuse is a felony, anyone who observes a child suffering from serious injury or illness and has substantial reason to suspect child abuse, should report the facts to law enforcement authorities.

The court has multiple options for the disposition of a child adjudged to be dependent, neglected, or abused. The options include, among others, placing the child in protective supervision; committing the child to the temporary custody of an approved public or private agency, either parent, a relative, a probation officer for further court-approved placement; granting legal custody of the child to either parent, or any other person; committing the child to permanent custody of an approved public or private agency; placing the child in long-term foster care with an approved public or private agency; placing restrictions on the child, the child's parents, guardian, custodian, or any other person.

Under Ohio law, it is an offense for an adult to contribute to, or encourage in any way, the delinquency, unruliness, or neglect of a minor. The juvenile court has jurisdiction to try adults accused of this offense. Typically, contributing cases arise when parents fail to take reasonable measures to control their child's delinquent or unruly behavior, or when a person has sexual relations with a minor or encourages or aids a minor to have sexual relations. Encouraging a minor to frequent bars, houses of prostitution, or places where drugs are used may constitute the offense of contributing. Parents who fail to provide their child with food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, and education may be charged with contributing, or with nonsupport of dependents. The foregoing are only some of the possible forms which contributing to the delinquency or neglect of a minor may take. Nonsupport cases may be tried in any court having jurisdiction. Some nonsupport cases are felonies and thus must be tried in the common pleas court.

Divorce and Related Matters

The law's primary concern is to protect the solidarity of the family. However, the law recognizes that relations between a husband and wife can deteriorate to such a point that, from a societal and legal point of view, it is better to allow the orderly and fair termination of the marriage or marriage relationship. Under Ohio law, the marriage, or marriage relationship, may be terminated through divorce, dissolution of marriage, annulment, or legal separation. The domestic relations court is concerned with the orderly and fair termination of marriage, or the marriage relationship, and with the associated questions of child custody and support, spousal support, and division of property. The court is also interested in the possibility of preserving the marriage.

Ohio recognizes various basic types of legal proceedings involving marriage. Lawsuits for divorce, dissolution of marriage, and annulment all envision the same end result-terminating the marriage-although the basis for each of the lawsuits is different.

An action for legal separation seeks to determine the rights and responsibilities of the husband and wife with regard to property and their obligations to their children, if any. It does not affect their marital status. In essence, the court may allow the husband and wife to live apart from one another once it has determined all of the above rights and responsibilities. Generally, an action for legal separation is used by those whose beliefs prevent them from using divorce or dissolution of marriage. Questions of spousal support (alimony), division of property between the parties, and custody and support of children, if any, may be part of actions for divorce, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment.

In Ohio, a husband or wife may be able to file an action or lawsuit for conciliation. The action is used infrequently. It is an attempt to preserve the marriage. The common pleas court must affirmatively choose to establish the procedure that allows the filing of such an action. The court must establish what has been called a "conciliation court." In counties where a conciliation court exists, either a husband or wife, or both, may file a petition to obtain conciliation of marital controversies. During the pendency of an action for conciliation neither spouse may file or proceed with an action for divorce, annulment, or legal separation.

Ohio also has a second conciliation proceeding, and a mediation proceeding. The second conciliation proceeding is dependent on the initiation of an action for divorce, annulment, legal separation, or dissolution of marriage. At any time after the filing of an action for dissolution of marriage, or after 30 days of the service of summons or the publication of the first notice in an action for divorce, annulment, or legal separation, the court upon its own, or upon the motion (written request) of the husband or wife, may order the parties to take part in conciliation. (This conciliation proceeding does not require the establishment of a conciliation court.) The court's order must detail the process and state how expenses will be paid. Where children are involved, the court may order and require family counseling for a reasonable period. Where only the husband and wife are involved, the conciliation period cannot exceed 90 days. The court has wide discretion in specifying the detail of the conciliation/family counseling process. The conciliator may be a conciliation judge, a public or private marriage counselor, family service agency, community health service, physician, psychologist, or clergyman. The underlying action for divorce, annulment, or legal separation cannot be heard or decided until the conciliation or family counseling is complete and reported to the court. The statutory provision delaying the above actions does not mention dissolution of marriage, although the filing of a dissolution of marriage allows the filing of a motion for this kind of conciliation.

The mediation proceeding mentioned above is dependent on the initiation of an action for divorce, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, or an allocation of parental rights and responsibility (child custody) proceedings. Specifically, the mediation provision is applicable where the parents do not agree upon the appropriate allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, or upon a specific schedule of visitation. Mediation is discretionary with the court.

The court's mediation order and local court rule provide the detail for the process. They must state, among other things, the qualifications of the mediator, the mediation procedure, the content of the mediation report, and who pays the cost of the process. The court may use the mediation report in reaching its decision. In general, the mediator cannot be called as a witness or named a party in the underlying proceeding.

The domestic relations court has "continuing jurisdiction." For example, a domestic relations court's jurisdiction or power does not end when the court issues its order granting a divorce or a dissolution of marriage. That order or decision may be the first of a series of orders or decisions. In domestic relations matters, the court is faced with issues which are particularly susceptible to change. For example, the court must decide spousal support, child support, and child custody issues. The court can decide these issues only upon the basis of the parties' current circumstances. It is obvious that the parties' "current" circumstances will change. People move, remarry, get work, lose work, get better jobs, etc. The domestic relations court must be able to address the changing circumstances of the parties. It does so through its "continuing jurisdiction"-its power to make a series of appropriate amendments to its orders to reflect the changed circumstances of the parties.

As a practical matter, courts do not exercise continuing jurisdiction in most other kinds of lawsuits. In most lawsuits, the case is over when the court issues the judgment or order which decides the lawsuit; the court's judgment or order may be appealed, but appeals must be filed within a very short time.

The classic action to dissolve a marriage is divorce. In Ohio, there are 11 separate grounds on which a divorce may be granted. These are: (1) either party had a spouse living at the time of the marriage from which the divorce is sought (bigamy); (2) willful absence of the adverse party for one year or more; (3) adultery; (4) incompatibility, unless denied by a spouse; (5) extreme cruelty; (6) fraudulent marriage contract; (7) gross neglect of duty; (8) habitual drunkenness; (9) imprisonment of the adverse party in a penitentiary; (10) procuring a divorce outside Ohio, for example, a "quickie" Mexican divorce by which the adverse party is relieved of the marriage obligations but the person remaining in Ohio is not; and (11) living separate or apart, continuously and without cohabitation, for one year.

The grounds most often used are extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty. Extreme cruelty includes both physical and mental cruelty. Gross neglect of duty takes in a wide range of unacceptable conduct by a husband or wife. Typical examples are the failure of the husband to support his family adequately, and the failure of the wife to meet her obligations as a homemaker. "Incompatibility" has been recognized for only a few years, but its use is growing among couples who agree the marriage should end, but cannot agree on the terms.

Dissolution of marriage is a substantial departure from the traditional concept of divorce. In essence, it is a divorce by agreement of the parties with the approval of a court. The parties do not have to allege or prove any grounds for divorce. The husband and wife must enter into a separation agreement providing, among other things, for a division of property and, if they have minor children, for child custody and support, and for visitation rights. The separation agreement must be attached to the request for dissolution of the marriage and each document (the separation agreement and the request for dissolution of marriage) must be signed by both parties. When the court reviews the separation agreement and the request for dissolution of marriage, it is mainly concerned that the separation agreement is fair to both parties and that the agreement makes appropriate provisions for any children. If the court approves the separation agreement and the request for dissolution of marriage, the court issues an order dissolving the marriage. It is important to note that in a dissolution of marriage proceeding, the husband and wife must agree on everything. That is, they must agree that they both want to end the marriage and on all issues, including support, property division, and, if applicable, child custody.

While divorce and dissolution of marriage terminate a marriage which was valid, annulment declares that a marriage was illegal in the first place. The grounds for annulment in Ohio are: (1) the party seeking the annulment was underage at the time of the marriage; (2) a former marriage of either party was and still is valid (bigamy); (3) either party was mentally incompetent; (4) the consent of either party to the marriage was obtained by fraud; (5) the consent of either party was obtained by force; and (6) even though the marriage was otherwise valid, the parties never consummated the marriage (engaged in sexual relations as husband and wife). Ground one, bigamy, is the only ground which makes the marriage void (invalid from the start). The other grounds must be asserted within a specified time. Further, grounds one, three, four, and five are lost where there is cohabitation after, respectively: the party who was underage comes of age; the party who was incompetent regains competence; the fraud by which consent was obtained was discovered; the imposition of force which was used to obtain consent. In an annulment action the court can award temporary spousal support and can make a order concerning custody, care, maintenance, and education of any children. Permanent child custody and support may be granted, and an annulment does not affect the legitimacy of children.

When a court grants a legal separation a couple remains legally married, but most aspects of the marital relationship are terminated. In this action, the court will settle all property rights existing between the couple, address custody issues, and may resolve all other issues relating to the marriage, including spousal support and child support issues. If spousal support and child support are granted, payment is enforceable as if it had been granted in a divorce action. The grounds for legal separation are virtually the same as the grounds for divorce. "Procurement of a divorce outside Ohio," a ground for divorce, is not a ground for legal separation.

It should be noted that if one spouse files for legal separation, the other spouse may still seek a divorce or annulment. In addition, once a legal separation has been granted, there is nothing in the law that prevents either spouse from seeking a divorce or annulment.

There is a distinction between spousal support (alimony) and a property settlement (property division). A property settlement is the division of the property belonging to the couple which was acquired during the marriage. Once property has been divided, the court can consider spousal support. Spousal support is the money paid for the support and maintenance of the other spouse. In determining whether spousal support is appropriate and reasonable, and the nature, amount, terms, and duration of payment, the court must consider a number of factors, including: (1) the relative earning abilities of the parties; (2) the ages, and the physical and emotional condition of the parties; (3) retirement benefits; (4) expectations and inheritances; (5) the duration of the marriage; (6) the extent to which custody and care of a minor child will interfere with a party seeking employment outside the home; (7) the standard of living established during the marriage; (8) the relative education of the parties; (9) the relative assets and liabilities of the parties; and (10) property brought to the marriage by either party. Depending on the circumstances, a wife may be ordered to pay support to the husband, although in the usual case the husband pays spousal support. The court may order spousal support to be paid in a lump sum or installments.

When a couple is married and living together, both have equal custody of their children. In the eyes of the law, both have equal authority to jointly make decisions concerning the care, discipline, and support of their children. When a marriage is terminated by the court, one spouse will have primary responsibility over the children unless a court allows shared parenting. The parent with primary responsibility is called the residential parent and the other parent is called the nonresidential parent. If the couple cannot agree on which of them will be the residential parent or upon a visitation schedule, the court will decide for them or require them to mediate the issue under the mediation procedures adopted by the court. See "Conciliation" above. While generally both parents request shared parenting, the request for shared parenting may be initiated by one parent. Although it is not necessary for both parties to agree that there should be shared parenting, the ability of the parents to cooperate on child rearing matters is very important to the court. Where this factor is not present, courts will rarely find shared parenting to be in a child's best interest.

When a court is called upon to decide a custody issue, the court's primary focus is, "What is in the best interest of the child?" That is, under all the circumstances, is it in the child's best interest to be placed with the father or with the mother; or would a shared-parenting arrangement be more appropriate? In attempting to determine what is in the best interest of a child, the court is required to consider all relevant factors including the various guidelines specified in state law.

The child's wishes and concerns about custody are two of the factors used to determine the best interest of a child. Under Ohio law, a court may interview the child to determine the child's wishes and concerns about custody. Under prior Ohio law, a child age 12 or older could state that he or she preferred to live with one parent. This provision was often misconstrued by the public as allowing the child to choose a parent. The provision did not give the child the power to choose. The child's preference was an important factor, but the court decided which parent would have custody based on the best interest of the child. Under current law, the preference of the child remains a factor considered by the court.

When custody is granted to one parent, visitation is normally granted to the nonresidential parent. Each court is required to adopt standard visitation guidelines which it will use when called upon to decide visitation issues.

Under state law, a husband and wife are the joint natural guardians of their children and are equally charged with their children's care, welfare, and education. This charge also includes the duty to adequately support minor children. The obligation of child support normally continues until the child turns 18 or as long as the child attends high school on a full-time basis. The obligation can terminate earlier if the child marries, joins the armed forces, or leaves home and becomes self-supporting. It can also be extended in a separation agreement or by court order, or the disability of the child.

To assist courts and parents in attempting to determine the proper amount of support needed for a child, the Ohio General Assembly has established the Ohio Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines are used by Ohio courts as a starting point for the establishment or modification of child support; they are used in conjunction with other guidelines and factors specified in state law. Under the Ohio Child Support Guidelines, a parent can calculate the amount of child support he or she might expect to pay or to receive. The amount is determined by using a worksheet and plotting the results against the payment schedule provided with the worksheet. Courts require parents involved in domestic relations matters to complete and file these, or similar, worksheets. The amount determined by the worksheet is presumed to be correct unless certain limited deviation factors can be proven.

In general, a court will not interfere with a family which is intact to settle family disagreements about the right to see or visit a child. For example, a court will not become involved in a conflict between a son and his father (mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, etc.) where the son refuses to let his father, etc., see the son's minor child or children. However, the court may grant reasonable companionship or visitation with minor children to grandparents, relatives, or other persons where: (1) there is a pending divorce, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, or child-support proceeding; (2) the court has continuing jurisdiction over the proceedings listed in (1) above; (3) a parent has died and left a minor child; or (4) an unmarried woman has a minor child.

Where there is a pending divorce, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, or child-support proceeding, a grandparent, relative, or other person may file a motion in the common pleas court seeking reasonable companionship or visitation with the minor child of the parties involved in the listed proceedings. (A motion is a written request that is filed with the court and sent to other parties which asks the court to take some action.) The motion may be made by the same people even after the listed proceedings are completed if circumstances have changed. Such a motion is made under the continuing jurisdiction of the court. See "Conciliation" above, for a discussion of continuing jurisdiction.

Where a parent has died and left a minor child, the mother or father of the deceased parent may file a complaint in the common pleas court seeking reasonable companionship with the minor child. (A complaint is a document which names certain persons as defendants in a lawsuit, requests certain relief from the court, and which is formally served upon the named defendants.)

Where an unmarried woman has a child, the parents or relatives of the unmarried woman may file a complaint in the common pleas court seeking reasonable companionship or visitation with the minor child. The father, or relatives of the father, may file a complaint seeking reasonable companionship or visitation with the child if the father has acknowledged paternity of the child or has been adjudged to be the father of the child.

In determining whether to grant any of the above requests for companionship or visitation, the court considers all relevant factors. The best interest of the child is the paramount factor, but the court also considers, among other things, blood and social relationships; interactions; geographical location and distance; the character of the requester; availability of parents; and schedules.

Articles appearing on this website are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

Reprinted and distributed by Fanger & Associates LLC with permission from the Ohio State Bar Foundation as a service to our clients and friends.

Excerpted from The Law And You, A Handbook of General and Everyday Law Affecting Ohio Citizens. Prepared for the Ohio State Bar Association by the Ohio State Bar Foundation. Copyright © 1997-1999 Ohio State Bar Association.
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