Custody rights for unmarried fathers in Summit County, Ohio

[Thursday, 01 July 2010 01:41] [Friday, 19 October 2012 06:29]

Child custody and unmarried fathers in Ohio

When talking about custody, there are many misconceptions amongst parents.  Many people believe that custody is the way that fathers try to get out of paying child support, or in the case of an unmarried mother, to get child support.  While in some instances this could be true, I think that most parents just want to raise their children.

The system and the courts in it, however need mothers and fathers to fight month after month.  Unmarried parents in court are sure money makers and are a perfect avenue for the Child Support Enforcement Agency to be involved.

Specific to Summit County, Ohio, an unmarried man can not file a complaint for the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities (custody), without first requesting the "assistance" of CSEA.  I think you see the rest of that picture. 

Custodial matters should always be determined with the true best interest of the child in mind.  There are thousands of fathers in this county and state that genuinely would be able to provide a positive and nurturing environment for their children on a substantial basis, but the system prevents this with laws that favor maternal upbringing and discriminates against paternal involvement, which has been done for administrative convenience, the belief in the "tender years doctrine" and the ability to collect child support.

We will now be discussing the differences of legal custody, shared custody, equal custody and physical custody, as well as what the Ohio Revised Code offers by default in these areas for unmarried fathers.  Within the main menu of this page, there is a link provided to access the next logical part of the puzzle, the residential parent.

Legal custody The general consensus in the legal community, in terms of legal custody, is that it refers to the general welfare of the child.  In lamens terms it means: "The person responsible".

Shared custody:  ... or formerly known as (joint custody), basically means that both parents can make decisions for their child.  This usually happens only when a court believes that the mother and father can work together to ensure that matters concerning the child are handled.  Instances where the parents do not get along, or when one parent, usually the mother, objects to shared custody, the courts are reluctant to order it.

Equal custody:  This is a term that has come up over the years, which unfortunately is not often used.  This refers to the type of arrangement that married people have by default, equal legal custody.  One parent can make decisions concerning their child, for any reason or time, just as well as the other, at the time of their choosing.  It also means equal physical custody, which would mean half of the time with you and half with the other parent.  Courts have repeatedly have shown resistance for this type of agreement between parents.  The few times it ever happens is usually when the parents have filed an agreed entry with the court.

(In case you were wondering, the Ohio Revised Code does not offer equal custody as an option).

Physical custody:  As the name implies, this refers to physically having the child in your possession.  Any time you have your child with you, in your presence, you have physical custody of them at that moment.  You will find more information about this in the visitation section of this site. 

The Ohio Revised Code, in section 3109.042, tells us that: "An unmarried female who gives birth to a child is the sole residential and legal custodian of the child until a court of competent jurisdiction issues an order designating another person as the residential parent or legal custodian." 

What this means is: when your child is born, you do not have any custodial rights as an unmarried father.  Except for the right to pay child support, you have no rights at all with your child. 

As odd as this sounds, this particular piece of code has been in effect since January 1, 1998.  The Ohio Revised Code, in its infinite wisdom, leaves one solution to this problem.  You must establish paternity and submit a complaint to the court for your custodial rights.  The specifics of that situation is covered in the paternity section.

In the previous paragraphs, you read that the mother is the legal custodian of a child upon the birth of a child.   The next piece of code to examine with along with that is section 3111.26 of the Ohio Revised Code, which begins: "After an acknowledgment of paternity becomes final and enforceable, the child is the child of the man who signed the acknowledgment of paternity, as though born to him in lawful wedlock."  

Ok.. stop.. wait.. hold on a minute!  You mean to tell me that once this "affidavit paper" is done that I get the rights to my child, as if I were married to the mother? 

The answer is: In theory.. yes.  In practical terms.. no

If your child was your child "as though born" to you in "lawful wedlock", you and the mother would have equal rights across the board with your child .  The truth is: once the voluntary affidavit becomes final and enforceable, you are only the "legal father" and do not have any custodial rights.  It really doesn't add up... does it?

What can an unmarried father expect in court?

While every situation is different, court and the legal system in general will not be forthcoming with your custodial rights.  While there are some judges and magistrates out there that actually determine custody matters fairly, have the best interest of the child in mind,  believe that fathers play a vital role in a child's development and operate under the premis that children should have substantial contact with their fathers, these professionals are few in number.

Anticipate that you will have several court appearances in order for things to eventually settle out.  Summit County Domestic Relations Court, for instance, has a Family Services office on the second floor.  The Juvenile Court, on the other hand, has the CASA/GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) program.  You will undoubtedly will get aquainted with them during your case.  These are used where either a parent requests their assistance, or the court orders their services .  The court will likely tell you that "an opinion is need" to see if the parents should share custody or not, very much as I was told.  You just never know.

What can I do to help myself?


Talk to an attorney.  Further educate yourself as how the parentage system works in Ohio.

Keep fighting... no matter what.  Rome not built in a day, it was very hard work that took time. 

Keep focused and remember why it is important that you pursue your children.  Your child is your child.  No matter what ever happens, no one can take that away from you!!!