As part of my ongoing efforts to share with you the duties of the Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas, today I will explain some of the basic aspects of the Domestic Relations Court.
As I have previously explained, there are four divisions of the Common Pleas Courts in the State of Ohio – the General Division, the Domestic Relations Division, the Juvenile Division, and the Probate Division. In larger counties, there are separate judges for each of those divisions and in many instances, several judges assigned to each of those divisions.
In Ottawa County, Judge Geisler is in charge of the Juvenile Court and Probate Court, while I am assigned to the General Division and Domestic Relations Division.
My previous articles have focused on the General Division, that is, criminal cases and civil litigation, but a major part of our work here is domestic relations cases. The Domestic Relations Court deals with divorces, dissolutions, custody, child support and civil protection orders.
While I have authority to hear cases in both the General and Domestic Relations Division, many of the cases in the Domestic Relations Division come before a magistrate whom I have appointed to hear such cases.
Most people understand that a divorce is the termination of a marriage, the distribution of property, and the custody and care of the children of divorcing parents. Last year, 71 divorces were heard in our court. Most of those cases involved marriages with children for which the court needed to decide the proper care, custody, and support.
We certainly understand that divorce is always difficult for the children of divorcing parents, however we encourage parents to work together to reach an agreement regarding the care, custody and support of their children. When they are unable to do so, this court makes those decisions.
Often times, both parents are appropriate and the court is left to make a decision between the better of the two living arrangements for the children. Sometimes one parent is clearly the better option than the other parent, and sadly, in some cases, neither parent is entirely suitable to provide parenting to their children without the assistance of the other parent.
The decisions regarding parenting are some of the most important decisions that we make in this court, and we take a lot of time to do the best we can to make the right decision for the children. The standard the court works with is what is “in the best interests of the child.” You will note that the decision is not made on what is in the best interest of either parent.
The court can make custody decisions that include sole custody, where one parent has the child the vast majority of the time and makes all of the parenting decisions for the child while the non-custodial parent has visitation with the child on a regular basis.
The court can also choose a shared parenting plan, where the parents have equal input into the raising of the child. In a shared parenting plan, the children may spend an equal amount of time with each parent, but that’s not necessarily so.
In divorces without the issue of children, the major duty of the court is to determine what assets and liabilities there are of the marriage. Under almost all circumstances, the court endeavors to divide those assets and liabilities equally between the parties without regard for who is at fault in a marriage termination. These are some of the most difficult cases this court hears and the Supreme Court asks us to resolve these matters within 18 months of their filing. The vast majority of cases are resolved in that amount of time.
The Court also hears dissolutions of marriage. The difference between a divorce and the dissolution is that the parties have come to a complete agreement as to how and under what terms their marriage will be dissolved, including what they believe to be in the best interests of their children regarding care, custody and support. The parties file their dissolution paperwork along with their complete agreement dividing their assets and liabilities and providing for the children. These cases are often resolved within three months of their filing. There were 65 dissolutions filed last year.
For the purposes of making modifications to custody agreements, child support, spousal support or other matters the parties wished to have brought before the court again, 67 cases were reopened last year.
The last type of cases brought before the Domestic Relations Court is that of Civil Domestic Violence Orders and Civil Stalking Protection Orders. These are orders designed to give protection to people who have been harmed, threatened or stalked by another. This is a subject I believe warrants the column of its own and will do so in the near future.
The work of the Domestic Relations Court is some of the most complex, time-consuming and important work we have here in the Common Pleas Court.