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Things unmarried parents in Ohio need to know

Child custody issues are perhaps the most delicate matters Ohio family law seeks to address. The vigilant focus of the courts is expected to be on ensuring that the best interests of the child or children remain paramount when making custody decisions.

While that catch-all tenet is fairly clear, it isn't always easy to fulfill. One of the big reasons is that the circumstances of the parents and families in general are not one-size-fits all. If child custody issues arise because married parents are divorcing, that may present one set of unique challenges. If questions of child custody involve parents who are unmarried, other factors come into play. 

For example, according to Ohio state code 3109.042, when an unmarried woman has a child, the presumption is that she is the sole residential and legal custodian of the child. That can change, but only if a court orders it.

At the same time, the code states that when dealing with custody issues involving unmarried parents, the courts are to "treat the mother and father as standing upon an equality when making the (custody) designation."

What that seems to reflect is that while social attitudes about mothers being naturally better parents may be changing, the legal scales continue to tip in their favor. This leaves a certain burden on fathers in such circumstances to take initiative when it comes to either establishing or refuting paternity.

There may be situations in which the unmarried parents are sharing parenting duties equally. If paternity hasn't been established and the relationship ends, a father's desires to maintain contact with a child could be at risk.

On the other hand, if a mother is making a claim for child support on the basis of a false allegation that you are the father, it may be necessary to take legal steps to refute the request and avoid an unjust obligation.

Regardless of your position in a paternity dispute, it's important to avoid making any presumptions about how the law applies. It's always better to seek the counsel of an attorney in whose experience you can be confident.

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