When making determinations about child custody during a divorce, you and your spouse are likely wondering how much say your children have in the matter. Under Ohio law, the preferences of children with regard to custody do matter, but they are not the ultimate factor in decisions of shared parenting.
Ohio Law: Best Interests of the Children
In arriving at an agreement regarding child custody during divorce proceedings, courts in Ohio will always do what is in the best interests of the children. The interests of each child will be weighed separately, though courts usually favor keeping all children in the same home. The court overseeing your divorce will weigh several factors to decide what is in the best interest of your children, including:
- Parental wishes;
- Child’s relationship with each parent and with siblings;
- Child’s adjustment to school, current home, neighborhood;
- Physical and mental health of all parties involved;
- Each parent’s ability to pay child support;
- Any history of violence, abuse, or neglect.
One of the factors a court will consider, in addition to those above, is the preferences or wishes of the child. This is true for children of all ages. The state of Ohio used to have a set age for allowing children to have a say in where they live, but this is no longer true. Children of any age can express their desires about where they would like to live after the divorce.
While there is no set age for weighing a child’s preference in Ohio, an older child’s preferences will likely be more strongly considered by a court. This is because of the natural advancements in reasoning and maturity that come with age. Older children are more capable of undergoing sound reasoning in determining which parent they would rather live with full-time.
Children will almost never be asked to testify regarding their preferences. Testimony can be traumatic, extremely for younger children. Instead, a judge can speak to children about their preference in chambers, or a guardian ad litem can be appointed to determine the wishes of the children. The whole process of expressing a preference must, again, be balanced against the child’s best interests. If a child will be too emotionally harmed by choosing one parent’s home over the other, the child should not be asked to state a preference.
All of this said, even when a court has a reasoned preference from a mature child, the court will not automatically follow the child’s wishes. The court will, instead, use the child’s stated wishes as one factor to weigh in determining the best arrangement.
To schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable Ohio divorce attorney, contact Dawes Legal, LLC, by calling (614) 733-9999. We can help you understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of finding out your children’s preferences and how those might play into custody determinations.