Who Has Custody of a Child in Ohio When the Parents Are Not Married?

The structure of American families is changing. Pew Research Center notes that one in four parents of young children nationwide are unmarried. Some of these parents live with the co-parent, others are separated. This raises an important question: How does child custody work for unmarried parents in Ohio? The short answer is that the father must take proactive steps to establish paternity and that the custody arrangement will be determined based on the best interests of the child. In this article, our Toledo child custody lawyers provide a more in-depth explanation of custody and visitation rights for unmarried parents in Ohio.

An Unmarried Father Must Establish Paternity of a Child in Ohio 

In Ohio, a married man is automatically presumed to be the legal father of his wife’s child. No additional action is needed on the part of a married couple for a dad to get parental rights and parental responsibilities. Paternity rights are immediate. 

Paternity can be more complicated for an unmarried couple. Action is required. The couple has the right to submit a joint voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form to establish the father’s parental rights. Alternatively, if there is conflict over parentage, genetic testing may be necessary. 

Legal paternity is the basis of a father’s parental rights and parental obligations in Ohio. Without paternity, an unmarried father can not seek custody or visitation. Likewise, an unmarried father cannot be required to pay child support unless legal paternity is in place. 

Ohio Law: Child Custody Falls Under the Best Interests of the Child Legal Standard 

Once paternity has been established, the Ohio child custody & visitation laws are no different for married parents and unmarried parents. Both mothers and fathers have an equal right to seek custody. In general, the state favors some form of shared parenting. That being said, sole legal custody can be awarded when warranted. Under Ohio Revised Code § 3109.04, parental rights and responsibilities (child custody) are allocated in the best interests of the child. 

Put another way, Ohio courts are required to come to the custody arrangement that is best for the child’s safety, health, emotional well-being, and social atmosphere. This standard applies to both divorcing couples and to parents who have never been married. A wide range of different factors will be considered when determining what is in the best interests of a child. Indeed, an Ohio family law court can review any factor deemed relevant to protecting the child’s well-being. 

Call Our Toledo, OH Child Custody Lawyers for Immediate Help With Your Case

At Groth & Associates, our Toledo child custody attorneys are passionate, solutions-driven advocates for parents in Ohio. If you have any questions about custody/visitation rights for unmarried parents, we can help. Call us or connect with us online to arrange your strictly private consultation. Our law firm represents parents throughout Northwest Ohio, including in Perrysburg, Defiance, Bowling Green, Liberty Center, Port Clinton, Sandusky, Fremont, and Oak Harbor.