The parents do. At least, the parents have the first chance to decide on child custody under Ohio law. However, if the parents cannot agree on child custody arrangements, the matter may have to go to court where a judge will decide who gets custody of the child.
When parents decide to divorce, when unmarried parents separate or when divorced or unmarried parents need to change existing child custody arrangements, they have the opportunity to reach an agreement about how parental rights and responsibilities will be allocated. More often than not, parents are successful in reaching agreements on their own. This may require some negotiation or even formal mediation, but it can be done.
If an agreement is reached on child custody matters, the parents will submit a shared parenting plan or parenting plan to the court, along with an attached parenting time schedule, for approval by the court.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the matter will go to court. In Ohio, child custody is decided by a judge in domestic relations court if the matter is part of a divorce or dissolution, or in juvenile court if the matter involves unmarried parents.
The judge’s decision will be driven by the child’s best interest. In most cases, that means making certain that both parents continue to be involved in the child’s upbringing, often in a way that most closely preserves the previous relationships between the child and each parent. In making a decision, the judge may listen to testimony from the parents, and may also interview the child. In some cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem, whose role it is to review the circumstances and offer recommendations to the judge about how parental rights and responsibilities should be allocated.
Many parents would prefer to make decisions about child custody without the intervention of a judge, and the courts encourage it, as nobody will understand the situation or the needs of their child better than them. However, this can be a tough process, especially when parents do not get along, and usually calls for compromises on both sides.