Child Custody Determinations and the In Camera Interview

Ohio courts rely on what is “In the best interest of the child” to make all child custody determinations.  Custody of a child or children are among the most difficult of all decisions that a trial judge or magistrate must make.  He or she must attempt to gain an understanding of familial relationships between parents and children using only evidence gleaned from the parties and testimony of others which may only be a snapshot in their family lives.  Sometimes the court employs a Guardian Ad Litem to conduct an investigation into the families’ inner workings to determine any issues that are relevant in custody determinations.  The Guardian will then make a report to the magistrate based on their findings and opinion, and the court can utilize that report to assist in the decisions that need to be made.

An “In Camera Interview” is always an option for the parties as well as the judge. The phrase is a Latin word meaning “In chambers; in private.” Either parent’s attorney can motion for an In Camera Interview, or the court can request the interview on its own.  The interview’s purpose is to determine what the child’s wishes are with respect to custody and visitation, while offering them a safe, non-adversarial opportunity to express themselves.  The rules that govern In Camera Interviews are expressed in the Ohio Revised Code (Ohio Law) and read as follows:

3109.04 Allocating parental rights and responsibilities for care of children – shared parenting.

(B)(1) When making the allocation of the parental rights and responsibilities for the care of the children under this section in an original proceeding or in any proceeding for modification of a prior order of the court making the allocation, the court shall take into account that which would be in the best interest of the children. In determining the child’s best interest for purposes of making its allocation of the parental rights and responsibilities for the care of the child and for purposes of resolving any issues related to the making of that allocation, the court, in its discretion, may and, upon the request of either party, shall interview in chambers any or all of the involved children regarding their wishes and concerns with respect to the allocation.

(2) If the court interviews any child pursuant to division (B)(1) of this section, all of the following apply:

(a) The court, in its discretion, may and, upon the motion of either parent, shall appoint a guardian ad litem for the child.

(b) The court first shall determine the reasoning ability of the child. If the court determines that the child does not have sufficient reasoning ability to express the child’s wishes and concern with respect to the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities for the care of the child, it shall not determine the child’s wishes and concerns with respect to the allocation. If the court determines that the child has sufficient reasoning ability to express the child’s wishes or concerns with respect to the allocation, it then shall determine whether, because of special circumstances, it would not be in the best interest of the child to determine the child’s wishes and concerns with respect to the allocation. If the court determines that, because of special circumstances, it would not be in the best interest of the child to determine the child’s wishes and concerns with respect to the allocation, it shall not determine the child’s wishes and concerns with respect to the allocation and shall enter its written findings of fact and opinion in the journal. If the court determines that it would be in the best interests of the child to determine the child’s wishes and concerns with respect to the allocation, it shall proceed to make that determination.

(c) The interview shall be conducted in chambers, and no person other than the child, the child’s attorney, the judge, any necessary court personnel, and, in the judge’s discretion, the attorney of each parent shall be permitted to be present in the chambers during the interview.

Effective Date 03/22/2001.

In practice, the most important factors in determining whether to conduct the interview are the reasoning ability of the child and the effect that the interview will have on the child.  The child must be of sufficient maturity to express their wishes, and the interview has to be in their best interest. Courts do not want to traumatize children by grilling them with questions; they strive to achieve whatever is in the best interest of the children while causing them as little emotional difficulty as possible.

If you have questions or need assistance with a divorce, dissolution, child custody or family law issue, please contact Slater & Zurz LLP at 1-800-297-9191 or send us a blog message to set up a convenient time to talk with one of our experienced Ohio family law attorneys.

For more information about divorce, dissolution and other Ohio family law matters, please visit dissolutionanddivorce.com.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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