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Relocation in Ohio Shared Parenting Cases
by Sharon Comet-Epstein
Clever airline ads say that with discounted fares, “you’re free to move about the country.” But as a residential parent in Ohio who wants to relocate with your children, you could find yourself grounded at your current location.

Ohio law requires a residential parent to notify the presiding domestic relations court of their intention to relocate children. In addition, more and more shared parenting and separation agreements require permission from the non-residential parent to move children from the current school district, city, county or other specified region.

Unless the other parent is without parental rights, you will need their cooperation to relocate the children. And in all cases, the court will need to agree that moving protects the best interests of the children.

The bottom line: If you have kids and are under a court ordered shared parenting arrangement in Ohio, you just can’t pick up and move somewhere with them. You must notify the court first.

Understanding Ohio shared parenting

Shared parenting is the term used in Ohio since 1991 to refer to what used to be called joint custody. Shared parenting arrangements can be anything from an equal division of responsibilities to minimal but still existing visitation rights for one parent.

The clear intent of the Ohio statutes governing modification of child custody is to maintain the status quo. This means providing children with a sense of stability and sparing them from a tug of war between parents who each believe they provide the better upbringing.

The most productive approach is to talk through your potential relocation with the other parent. If you can devise a solution that works for both of you, you still must present it to the court before calling the moving van.

If the other parent refuses to consent, the parent wanting to relocate has the burden of proving to the court that relocation is in the children’s best interest. The court will want to be satisfied that the harm of uprooting the children from their familiar environment and the other parent is outweighed by the benefits of relocation.

The courts consider each case individually. Approval is not a slam dunk by any means.

The courts like stability for children
In reviewing relocation requests, judges and magistrates look for any changes in circumstances that support the move. Examples include if the non-residential parent has been arrested, is lagging in attention to the children or is increasingly hostile to the residential parent on visitation and communication. Other significant changes might involve the physical, psychological and educational needs of the children. Unruly teenagers, for instance, often benefit from relocation.

Take Dave and Sue. When they divorced, they agreed to have the children live with each of them every other week. Both agreed to not relocate outside Cuyahoga County without the other’s consent.

For three years they lived in the same neighborhood. This made it easier for the children to maintain close relationships with them, their extended families and their school friends. Then Sue decided she wanted to move to Oregon with the children to be close to her boyfriend.

An alternating weekly cross-country possession schedule was impossible. Dave would not consent to the children’s relocation. Both wanted to be the primary residential parent and maintain their current access to the children.

What would the court most likely decide?

If sue decided to file her intent to relocate the children and Dave filed to contest the move, what would likely be the result?

Under Ohio’s best interest statute, the court must consider relevant factors. These include:

  • Whether the children love both parents but prefer to live with one.
  • How involved the children are with their local relatives, school, friends, activities and health care providers.
  • If the residential parent is likely to facilitate a good relationship and visitation between the children and the other spouse.
  • Whether the relocating spouse is voluntarily moving out of state or for job or family reasons.

For Dave and Sue, the court would likely find that it not in the children’s best interest to leave. If Sue left Cleveland without the children, the court would likely designate the father as the primary residential parent and revise the mother’s visitation schedule.

However, Sue might prevail if she could demonstrate to the court that Dave:

  • Decreased his visitation time
  • Was no longer able to provide a stable and nurturing home
  • Had been convicted of child abuse or neglect
  • Was chemically dependent
  • Had become hostile toward the Sue and uncooperative with visitation
In addition, Sue would need to satisfy the court that she would provide a stable and nurturing home while encouraging court ordered visitation from her new location.

Keeping control through cooperation

While you might not see eye to eye with your ex-spouse, negotiating with them can be preferable to allowing someone else, albeit magistrates and judges trained and experienced in family issues, to make parenting arrangement decisions for you.

Although individuals have a constitutional right to move throughout the country, a person in Ohio with shared parenting responsibility does not have the automatic right to relocate their children unless that right is provided in the shared parenting plan. Unless the other parent has already been found unfit, their consent is required.

In all cases, you will have to file a motion with the court about your intent to move the children and receive approval before you move.

Relocating first and notifying the court second can severely harm your chances to remain or become the residential parent. At the least, it reduces your credibility before the court. Many parents who thought notification unnecessary have been required to return with the children, even though they had sold their homes and were established elsewhere.

You or your ex-spouse might only want to move to an adjacent school district or county. Still, whenever possible, your best solution will come from understanding Ohio law by consulting with your attorney and then talking through possible solutions with your former spouse.

What actually happened with Dave and Sue? Rather than fighting in court, they determined it best that the children live in Cleveland with their father and enjoy liberal visitation with their mother. With their attorneys, they drew up a revised shared parenting agreement.

The court approved.


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