If you and your co-parent can’t reach an agreement on how to share custody of your children, a judge will need to make that decision for you. In Ohio and in family law courts throughout the country, judges typically adhere to the “best interests of the child” standard. They make custody and visitation decisions based on what they think will be best for a child’s happiness, safety, development, and physical and emotional health.

A big consideration for most judges is each parent’s relationship with their children. One judge explains, “If both parents have a history of being engaged and involved with their kids, that will matter a lot. If…there are no safety issues for the children, then ordinarily, you will be looking at some sort of shared parenting.”

That means the court will determine how parenting responsibilities were shared while the parents were still together and how involved each parent was in their children’s lives. Did both parents help with homework, go to soccer games and get to know their kids’ friends? Or did most of the parenting responsibilities fall to one parent because the other worked long hours during the week and spent the weekends with their own friends?

After a divorce, most parents step up to become more involved in their children’s lives if they share custody — partly out of necessity. Even if you never cooked for your kids, did their laundry or took them to and from school before, you may have to when they’re with you.

However, if you’re asking a judge to grant you equal shared custody with your co-parent after years of not being an involved parent, that can be a difficult case to make. You may have to prove yourself for a time, perhaps with weekend custody or regular visitation, before you can gain greater custody. Your attorney can provide guidance as you seek whatever arrangement you believe is best for your children and can help you make the case for more time with them.