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Court clarifies rights of children to attend custody hearings

Ohio Supreme Court rules child does not have constitutional right to sit at hearings

In an important ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a child’s constitutional rights were not violated when a juvenile court ordered her to be excluded from her custody hearings, according to The Plain Dealer. Since the child in this case is now a legal adult, the ruling will have little effect on her, but it does clarify the rights of other children in Ohio to attend hearings to settle which of their parents will be granted child custody.

Long and bizarre custody battle

The case in question was highly unusual. Although the daughter was just five when her parents divorced, the custody battle between the mother and father has dragged on for so long that the Supreme Court’s opinion came just after the child turned 18.

During that period, each parent took turns absconding with the daughter. The Russian-born mother first fled to Moscow with the girl. Upon returning to the United States, the father, who is American, then absconded with the child to Florida, where police found him and said he appeared to be on his way to Costa Rica. Finally, the mother again absconded with the child to Moscow, where, she claims, her house was broken into and the daughter was kidnapped. According to the Toledo Blade, the daughter was taken to Paris where she was then reunited with her father. The mother’s attorney claims the father is suspected of being behind the kidnapping.

Children at custody hearings

The issue for the court to decide was whether the daughter had a right to attend custody hearings for her when she was 13 years old. An Ottawa County court had ordered that she be excluded from the hearings, a decision that she and her attorney eventually appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, however, upheld the lower court’s decision, saying that although the girl had an interest in the hearings, she was not a direct party since the hearings were part of her parents’ divorce proceedings. The court noted that the girl did have a right to have her wishes heard by the court, however, and said that those wishes were adequately conveyed to the court. As such, her constitutional rights were not violated when she was excluded from the custody hearings.

Child custody

As the above case shows, child custody is often one of the most emotionally fraught issues surrounding a divorce. While most couples are likely to handle a custody dispute better than the above parties did, the story nonetheless highlights how often emotions can get in the way of making decisions that are in the best interests of the child.

Anybody who has a divorce or child custody issue that they need resolved should contact a qualified family law attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can be the voice of reason that many parents will be looking for in order to make the best decisions for their families.