Many people are aware of the concept of grandparents' rights, but cannot accurately articulate which rights grandparents have in their state or how grandparents can legally exercise these rights. Nowhere in the United States do grandparents universally have the right to spend time with their grandchildren or to seek custody of them, but in every state, there are restrictions on when a grandparent has rights and how she may exercise them.
In Ohio, a grandparent can pursue child custody or visitation by filing a motion with the court.
Understanding Grandparents Rights in Ohio
Every state has language in its family law statutes that pertains to grandparents’ rights to their grandchildren. This issue is governed at the state level, rather than at the federal level, which is why grandparents' rights laws vary so widely from state to state. In some states, like Idaho, grandparents' rights are covered by just one sentence within broader family law statutes. Other states have much more extensive grandparents' rights laws.
Grandparents rights in Ohio are similar to grandparents' rights in many other states: Grandparents have the right to pursue visitation with their grandchildren, but only under limited circumstances. When a child has an intact family, meaning his parents are both alive and married to each other, the child’s grandparents have no legal rights to visitation time with him. Only when one of these specific situations occurs does a grandparent have visitation rights:
- At least one of the child’s parents are dead.
- The child’s parents are not married to each other.
- The child’s parents were never married.
Even when one of these circumstances applies, the child’s grandparents do not automatically have visitation rights. What they do have is the right to file a request with the court for visitation time with the child. After filing for visitation rights in Ohio, the grandparent must demonstrate to the court that having a court-sanctioned relationship is in the child’s best interest. If the court grants visitation rights, it creates a visitation arrangement based on what it deems will best fit the child’s needs.
Uncle and Aunt Rights in Ohio
Uncle and aunt rights in Ohio are very similar to grandparents' rights in Ohio. Basically, a child’s aunt or uncle may pursue visitation rights with him if the court deems it to be in the child’s best interest, and at least one of these circumstances applies:
- The child’s parents were never married.
- The child’s parents are legally separated, divorced, have had their marriage annulled or are in the process of one of these.
- One or both of the child’s parents are deceased.
What Is in the Child’s Best Interest?
Every state has laws surrounding parental and grandparents' rights that prioritize the child’s best interest. The custody or visitation arrangement that is in a child’s best interest is the one that most fully supports her physical, emotional, psychological and medical well-being while promoting high-quality relationships with the adults in her life. Each state uses somewhat different wording to describe the factors that the court must consider to determine an arrangement that is in a child’s best interest, but in every state, the process of determining this arrangement is the same: The court considers a set of factors about the child’s lifestyle to determine how best to serve her needs.
In Ohio, these factors are:
- The wishes and concerns of the parents as expressed to the court.
- The child's interactions with parents and members of the extended family.
- The geographical location of the grandparent's residence and the distance from the child’s residence.
- The child’s and parents’ available time, including employment, school, holiday and vacation schedules.
- The child's age.
- The child's adjustment at home, at school and in the community.
- The wishes of the child as expressed in the judge's chambers.
- The child's health and safety.
- The availability of time for the child to be with his or her siblings.
- The mental and physical health of all those involved in the case.
- The willingness of the grandparent to reschedule missed visitation, if necessary.
- The conviction of the grandparent or a guilty plea by the grandparent involving a crime of child abuse or child neglect.
- Any other factor that is in the best interest of the child.
For example, when determining whether it is in a child’s best interest for his grandmother to have visitation rights, the court may consider the child’s existing relationship with his grandmother and his grandmother’s role in caring for him. A grandmother who can demonstrate that she has cared for the child after school for years and taken him to pediatrician appointments is more likely to be granted visitation rights than a grandmother who cannot prove her involvement in her grandchild’s life.
Evidence that a grandparent can use to demonstrate his involvement in his grandchild’s life includes:
- Written documentation of existing child care arrangements or other ongoing contact.
- Testimonies from adults, such as the child’s teacher and pediatrician, that address the grandparent’s role in the child’s life.
- Documentation showing that the child has lived in the grandparent’s home or that the grandparent has acted in a similar caregiving capacity.
Other relatives pursuing visitation, like an aunt exercising aunt rights in Ohio, are similarly required to provide sufficient evidence to support their positions.
Filing for Visitation Rights in Ohio
For grandparents, filing for visitation rights in Ohio is restricted to those who are legally related to their grandchildren. In other words, only parents of a child’s legal parents may file for visitation rights. When a baby is born to an unmarried mother, the child’s father must legally establish his paternity in order to become the child’s legal father and to exercise the rights that come with legal parentage. These rights include his parents’ rights to seek visitation with their grandchild.
To file for visitation rights, a grandparent must file a Motion for Visitation with the circuit court where she lives. The grandparent can file this motion while the child’s parents’ divorce is underway or in the absence of a divorce. In the motion, the grandparent must provide sufficient evidence that visitation is in the child’s best interest in order to be granted this right.
Filing for Custody in Ohio
Filing for custody of a grandchild in Ohio is a similar process to filing for visitation. To seek custody, a grandparent must file a Motion for Custody with the court and provide sufficient evidence to prove that being granted custody of the child is in the child’s best interest. Understandably, a grandparent must provide much stronger evidence to support a request for custody than he would have to provide to be granted visitation. In order to be granted custody of a grandchild, the grandparent must successfully demonstrate that both of the child’s parents are unable to properly care for her and that granting the grandparent the right to be the child’s legal guardian is the most effective solution for the child.
When Ohio’s Public Children Service Agencies remove a child from his home, a grandparent may seek visitation with him or even legal custody of him. When this happens, the grandparent is subject to the same requirements he would need to meet when seeking visitation or custody under other circumstances. If the child is adopted by a third party, any visitation arrangement he has with a grandparent may be terminated.
Similarly, a grandparent’s visitation order may be modified or terminated at any time if the court determines that to do so is in the child’s best interest. Although a grandparent can seek to enforce her legal rights to her grandchildren on her own, working with an experienced family lawyer can increase the chance of achieving her goals because a family lawyer is familiar with the court, the local laws and the procedures through which grandparents can successfully exercise their rights.