The Family Law Unit helps ensure that families are safe and stable. The demand for family law representation is overwhelming. In response, Legal Aid prioritizes cases where there is domestic violence and where children are at risk.

Family Law Matters We Handle

  • Protection orders for victims of domestic violence
  • Custody and divorce proceedings for victims of domestic violence
  • Custody and divorce proceedings where children are at risk
  • Child support cases for disabled people

The Family Law Unit also provides assistance to people to help them proceed on their own (pro se) to obtain a divorce where there are no children and no assets.

The Family Law Unit works with courts and bar associations to develop processes to assist pro se litigants, helps increase pro bono attorneys’ involvement in the area of family law and provides community legal education and advice on family law issues. The Family Law Unit works with other organizations to affect systemic change for victims
of domestic violence, children at risk, and low income people in domestic relations and juvenile courts.


What is Domestic Violence? Close

Domestic violence occurs when a past or present family or household member:

  • Causes or tries to cause bodily harm by hitting, pushing, beating, physically abusing, or forcing unwanted sexual relations
  • Threatens harm
  • Abuses children in the family or household
  • Commits acts of stalking or trespass

A family or household member includes: current or former spouse, parent, child, person related by blood or marriage, persons currently living together, or who have lived together within the past five years, persons who have children together.

If Faced with Domestic Violence, What Immediate Steps Can Be Taken for Protection? Close

  • Go to a hospital or seek medical treatment if injured
  • Call the police
  • Go to a safe place

Call a Hotline help

Geauga County, call WomanSafe at 888-285-5665;
Lake County, call Forbes House at 440-357-1018;
Lorain County, call Genesis House at 440-244-1853;
From anywhere, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

What Legal Options are Available for Protection from Domestic Violence? Close

Ask the Prosecutor to file criminal charges against the abuser in the city where the abuse occurred and also request a Temporary Protection Order (TPO).

File for a Civil Protection Order (CPO) in the county Domestic Relations Court, or the general division of the county Common Pleas Court if there is no Domestic Relations Court.

Criminal Temporary Protection Order

A TPO is issued only in criminal cases and orders the abuser to:

  • stay away from the victim and family members
  • stay away from the residence and workplace
  • not damage or remove property
  • not carry a weapon
  • not phone or otherwise contact the victim

Civil Protection Order

In addition to the TPO orders listed above, a CPO may award temporary custody, grant or suspend visitation with the minor children, and also may order the abuser to:

  • Give the victim exclusive use of an automobile
  • Attend substance abuse, anger management or batterer’s counseling
  • Pay support for the victim and the children
  • Be removed from the residence

How to File for a Civil Protection Order

Victims of domestic violence can file for a Civil Protection Order (CPO) with the help of an attorney, or without an attorney (also called “pro se”). It is more helpful to have an attorney. Legal Aid attorneys can assist victims who qualify for assistance. Phone the Legal Aid office in your county.

What is Custody Mediation? Close

Mediation is a process where the parents meet with a neutral third party called a “mediator” to see if they can resolve their differences and reach an agreement on custody of their child or children. If the parents are able to reach an agreement on custody, that agreement is put in writing for the Judge to issue a court order which adopts that agreement.

What will happen at Custody Mediation? Close

You will sign an “Agreement to Mediate.” The mediation session will focus on the future of the child or children. You and the other parent will be able to discuss what arrangements you prefer for the child or children’s residence and parenting time (visitation). The mediator will explain the terms and procedures of mediation and will help you and the other parent reach an agreement on a parenting arrangement for your child or children. The mediator may speak to parties separately or together. The mediator has no power to impose an agreement, but more than two-thirds of parents who go to mediation succeed in agreeing to a parenting plan.

I owe child support and will be in prison for at least a year. Can my payments be reduced? Close

New Rules Could Help People Who Owe Child Support

Until recently, an incarcerated obligor (a person who owes child support) was required to pay the same amount while in jail or prison that he or she paid prior to incarceration. Now, obligors who will be incarcerated for 12 months or more can ask the Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) to change the amount of support they owe. OCSS will recalculate the obligor’s support obligation based on actual earning potential while incarcerated. As a result, many incarcerated obligors might have to pay less than $5 per month.

Unfortunately, there is no process for the courts or the prisons to let OCSS know about obligors in this situation. Individuals may tell OCSS if they are sent to prison for 12 months or more and request a change. Also, defense attorneys should make their clients and the agency aware. This chance to lower the amount of child support owed while incarcerated can greatly reduce the amount of support owed by a person when released. If an obligor does not owe back support when released, they will get to actually take home their full paycheck.

Obligors now also may have the chance to get limited driving privileges. An obligor cannot ask for these privileges until actually in contempt for failure to pay support. Currently, an obligor can have his or her driver’s license suspended for failure to pay. This suspension lasts until support payments are made. The obligor also has to work with OCSS to pay the back amount owed. If the obligor still fails to pay child support, then he or she may be charged with contempt.

In order to get driving privileges, an obligor must have a copy of his driver’s abstract from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. He or she must also have a letter from his OCSS caseworker explaining the need for driving privileges. An OCSS caseworker, or other representative from OCSS, can also appear in person instead. OCSS will consider these requests for driving privileges on a case-by-case basis. Only obligors charged with contempt can request driving privileges.

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Susan Stauffer and Family Law Summer Associate Emma Knoth and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 2. Click here to read the full issue.

My child is over 18 but disabled. Can I still receive child support? Close

Usually a parent’s duty to support their child ends when the child turns 18.   But parents must continue to support children who are disabled and cannot live alone.   Parents must support these disabled children until either the parent or child dies or the child can live alone.

A child support order can continue past 18 if two statements are true.   First, the child must be mentally or physically disabled before age 18.   To decide if a child is disabled a court will consider all the child’s limits together.   Examples of physical limits are loss of hearing or muscle control.   Examples of mental limits are low IQ and learning problems.   Second, disability must be the reason the child is unable to work or live alone.   If the child has an IEP or gets SSI, that could be a sign the child may need continued support.

To get child support for a disabled child past 18, a parent must give the child support agency or judge proof of the disability.   Medical documents and school records about the child’s limits show disability.   Sworn statements about the child’s limits are also helpful.   Parents may receive a letter saying support for a disabled child will stop at age 18.   To keep support going, parents should provide the agency proof of the child’s disability right away.

In order to stop paying support for someone over 18, a parent must prove the child can live alone.   Information on the child’s work history and life skills may show a child can live alone.

Only some courts will issue a new child support order for a disabled child after the child is 18.   To get a new child support order, a parent must file a petition for support.   The place to file depends on the county where the child lives and whether the parents were ever married.     If you need help with a child support problem, call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to find out if you are eligible for assistance, or attend a free Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinic. See our events calendar for a clinic near you.

This article was written by Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Works Fellow Danielle Gadomski-Littleton and Legal Aid Senior Attorney Susan Stauffer and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.

What are some self-help tools I can use in my legal case? Close

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland recently created a self-help section on its website to begin providing tools to people who must go to court on their own without the help of an attorney.  The tools currently available can help people with the following:

Keep checking the Cleveland Legal Aid website for more self-help tools in the coming months.   If you have questions, attend one of Legal Aid’s free brief advice clinics.  You can find a list of upcoming clinic dates and locations here:

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What are some tips for representing myself in a family matter? Close

It is always best to have an attorney help you in court, but if you find you must represent yourself, here are some suggestions.  Two courts handle family law issues, Juvenile and Domestic Relations.  Start by reading the court’s website.  Some courts post forms and instructions.    For example, the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division, has a complete packet with instructions and forms on how to file a divorce and your divorce decree.   See,  If you visit the clerk’s office, remember that clerks are not permitted to give legal advice.

If you seek a specific outcome, start by filing a complaint or motion.  The other party must receive a copy of the documents that you file with a court.  This is called “service.”  You can ask the clerk of courts to “serve” the other party by completing a “service instruction” form.  You will need a complete address for the other party.  Failure to provide an accurate address for the other party will postpone your hearing.  The clerk will send you notice of the date, time, and location for your hearing.  Remember to notify the scheduler of any changes to your address or phone number.  Mark your calendar for deadlines and hearings in your case.

The court expects you to be ready for your hearing.  Keep your papers organized with paper clips or folders.  Bring to court whatever proof you have that supports your case.   For example, to prove your income for child support, you should have recent paystubs, w-2s and tax returns.  Include three (3) copies of all documents that you plan to present to the court:  one copy for the judge, another for the other party, and the third copy for yourself.   Also, have copies of any documents that were filed by you and the other side.  You can refer back to these papers as necessary.  Invite witnesses that can help you prove your case.  The court will expect you to present testimony by asking questions during the hearing.   Make sure you know what your witnesses will say when deciding who should testify.

When a case concerns children, courts will not permit your children to come into the court room, so it will be important to plan for child care ahead of time.

When it is time to present your case, stand and follow the directions of the judge or magistrate.  Make sure to dress appropriately.  Explain what you would like the court to do for you and your family.  Most importantly, point out why this action is needed and how it will serve you or the best interest of your children.


This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorneys Davida Dodson and Tonya Whitsett and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Can I be court-ordered to receive mental health treatment in or out of the hospital? Close

Yes. As of September 17, 2014, the law on “civil commitment” in Ohio changed. “Civil commitment” is when a probate court orders a person with mental illness to receive treatment. The court can order treatment in or out of a hospital, under certain circumstances. When a court holds a hearing to decide whether or not to order a person into treatment, that person has legal rights. For example, the person has the right to attend the hearing and to have an attorney represent them at the hearing. Anyone with questions about the new civil commitment law can call Disability Rights Ohio at 1-800-282-9181 to request help.

Click here for more information from Disability Rights Ohio about the new civil commitment law.

What is domestic violence and how can I recognize it? Close

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of repeated physical, sexual and emotional violence and behaviors that one person in a relationship uses to exercise power and control over the other. Domestic violence is never a random or isolated incident and it often increases in severity and frequency over time.

Abusers control family or household members with verbal insults, emotional abuse, financial control and threats. If these tactics do not work, the abuser then enforces his threats with physical and/or sexual violence. The consequence of the abuse for a victim depends on the tactics, but all abuse emotionally and psychologically hurts the victim. Abusive behaviors always create fear in the victim, force the victim to do what s/he does not want to do, and prevents the victim from doing what s/he wishes to do.

Domestic violence occurs in all communities among people of all income levels, racial and religious backgrounds, gay, lesbian, straight, transgendered, and people with disabilities.

Why do partners abuse?

In the most simple terms, they abuse because they can and it works. Hitting, kicking, choking, threatening, name calling and more are deliberate decisions based on what the abuser has learned through observation, experience and reinforcement. Abuse is not caused by illness, genetics, or substance use. It is not caused by “out of control anger.” Victims do not make their abuser hurt them.  Abusers decide when to be abusive to their partners and often choose which part of the victim’s body to hit so as not to leave noticeable marks. Others choose the place and time to carry out their assaults in an effort to exert the most power and control over the victim.

Are you in an abusive relationship?

You may be a victim of abuse if:

1)      Your abuser’s failure to accept responsibility forces you to compensate for his behavior.

2)      You often feel that you have no control over your life. Decisions about family, friends and activities are based on how the abuser will react.

3)      You may feel guilty over the failure of your relationship. This is reinforced by the abuser who blames you for all that goes wrong. Guilt over failure may be accompanied by shame for “putting up” with the abuse.

4)      The abuser blames you and you begin to believe it over time.

5)      Your behavior may be reinforced by economic dependence and increasing feelings of helplessness and fear as the abuse continues.

6)      You may fear the abuser’s anger but you may also deny or minimize this fear. Denial and minimization are common coping strategies for surviving abuse.

7)      You become isolated form friends, family or neighbors and other forms of support. This is not by choice.

Your abuser may:

1)      Be extremely jealous and suspect you of being unfaithful without any rational reason or evince to support such a belief.

2)      Control your access to money, social relationships and job opportunities and may monitor all your activities by making you account for any time apart or money spent.

3)      Be emotionally dependent on you and make constant demands for reassurance and gratification.

4)      Have poor self-esteem and feel inadequate about his masculinity, sexuality and parenting. These feelings may be masked by an extremely “tough or macho image.”

5)      Enforce rigid gender roles or believe in the traditional male “head of household” role.

6)      Blame you or others for their behaviors, feelings and problems.

7)      Was abused as a child.

8)      Have few friends and poor social skills.

9)      Be cruel not only to you but to children and pets.

10)  Be preoccupied with gun, knives, etc.

11)  Respond to situations with unpredictability.

12)  Use inappropriate displays of anger if they do not get what they want which includes physical touching without consent, threaten violence, verbal abuse and breaking objects of value to you.

If you think any of the above may be true for a relationship you have, call the numbers listed in this newsletter for help. Click here to access the information online.

This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Alexandria Ruden and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I do if I am experiencing domestic violence? Close

Emergency Info for Web





This information was compiled by Legal Aid Social Worker Dani Lachina and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How can domestic violence affect children? Close

Domestic violence affects everyone in a household including children.  Children may suffer physical injury or threats, but also experience emotional distress when they witness violence between their parents or other adults in the home.

If a child is not safe at home because of domestic violence, the adult victim should be supported.  Victims of violence may be able to leave the abuser and remove the children from danger, if they are able to secure emergency shelter, financial assistance, food and other basic necessities.  When a child is injured, some victims need help getting the child to a doctor, hospital, or prescribed medical treatment.  In any life threatening situation, always call 9-1-1 for help.

Many children who witness violence experience immediate and long term effects on their well- being.  Young children may experience problems sleeping, nightmares, and bedwetting.  Older children may be aggressive toward other children or the parent they live with.  Some children don’t feel hopeful about the future while other children experience learning and behavior problems. Parents and caregivers should let others involved in the child’s life know about the violence – if it’s safe to do so.  Then, teachers, coaches, and friends will understand the negative changes in behavior.

Long-term effects of domestic violence may cause children to experience shock, fear, guilt and anger.  These are normal feelings for children under the circumstances. But, the feelings can be difficult to cope with, both for the child and the adult.  Often professional support and counseling is needed to manage a child’s normal reactions to witnessing violence.

Sometimes it is necessary to engage the legal system to assist children who experience domestic violence. Parents may file a complaint to determine custody in Juvenile Court (if the parties are not married) or the Domestic Relations Court (if the parties were or are married).  Additionally, parents may file a motion to obtain a Civil Protection Order that also covers the children in order to stop future violence. These petitions, complaints, or motions should be supported by an affidavit (a written statement that a person signs, swearing it’s the truth) to explain why a court order is needed to protect the children. Forms to make these filings to protect children are available online at and…/domesticV.

Domestic violence affects the well being of children.  If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the resources listed in this newsletter for immediate help.  Legal Aid provides representation in some cases. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Davida Dodson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Where can I go to escape domestic violence and get help? Close

Cuyahoga County, in partnership with the City of Cleveland, recently opened the new Family Justice Center, a one stop center for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and stalking. The center is designed to help victims and survivors access the professionals they need, while in a comfortable, healing environment.  Cuyahoga County is excited to join the Family Justice Center movement, which has launched over 120 centers worldwide in the last fifteen years. Family Justice Centers are considered to be state of the art and let victims of crime choose better coordinated services that will help them live safer lives.

The center was launched after years of planning and coordination amongst multiple partners, including the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Teams of professionals, survivors, and funders met regularly to ensure that Cuyahoga County’s Family Justice Center was built with victim needs in mind.

Onsite service providers include the Witness/Victim Service Center, Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Frontline Services, City of Cleveland Division of Police, and City of Cleveland Prosecutor’s Office. The Family Justice Center also has relationships with the County’s Division of Children & Family Services, the County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Legal Aid attorneys. Although there are Cleveland specific services, any Cuyahoga County resident can come to the Family Justice Center for assistance with protection orders, linkages to counseling and supportive services, and assistance navigating the justice system.

No appointment is needed! The Family Justice Center is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. The address is 75 Erieview Plaza, 5th Floor, Cleveland, Ohio 44114. Free parking for victims of crime is available at the Hamilton Parking Garage, at E. 12th Street, between St. Clair and Lakeside Avenues. For more information or if you have questions, call the Family Justice Center at 216-443-7345.

This article was written by Jill Smialek of the Cuyahoga County Family Justice Center and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I know or am an immigrant suffering from domestic violence. Can I get help? Close

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including immigrants.  In fact, abusers often try to use a person’s immigration status as a method to control or abuse an immigrant victim.  For example, a U.S. citizen husband who constantly threatens to call the immigration authorities on his undocumented immigrant wife and have her deported is abusing her.

The government recognizes that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable.  There are special immigration laws that help protect immigrant victims of domestic violence.  One allows immigrant spouses of US citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPR) who have a green card to file a petition for themselves to remove conditions of residency.  A second allows victims who do not have a green card to file a self-petition if they meet certain criteria under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  A third option allows victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, to apply for a U-Visa if they can demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

Option 1: Self-petition to remove conditions of residency

When a USC or LPR applies for permanent residency status for their immigrant spouse, the immigrant spouse is granted a green card with conditional residency for two years.  Before the end of the 2 years, the immigrant spouse typically must file a joint petition, with their spouse, to remove the conditions.  However, in abusive relationships, the USC or LPR spouse often refuses to file the joint petition.   Abused immigrant spouses may file to remove the conditions on their residency by themselves if they can prove that they got married “in good faith” (not for immigration purposes), but during the marriage their spouse abused them.   If the immigrant spouse is successful in their self-petition, they then receive permanent residency status and a 10 year green card.

Option 2: Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition

The VAWA self-petition is for immigrants who do not have a “green card, but who meet one of five categories:

1) they are  married to an abusive USC or LPR spouse;

2) their USC/LPR spouse is abusing their child;

3) they were married to an abusive USC or LPR (as long as the divorce was within the last 2 years or the spouse lost their immigration status in the last 2 years);

4) they are the child of an abusive USC or LPR; or

5) they are a parent who is abused by their USC adult child.

Immigrants who complete a VAWA self-petition must show that they married their spouse in good faith, and if they were deported it would cause extreme hardship to themselves or their child.   If the self-petition is approved, the immigrant victim gets a work permit and can apply for a green card.

Option 3: U-Visas for victims of crimes

A U-visa is a type of visa available to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence.   Other eligible crimes include rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. The immigrant victim must show that they were helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.  If a U-visa application is approved, the applicant gets a work permit valid for four years.  Also, after having U-visa status for 3 years, an immigrant can apply for a green card.

More information about the immigration benefits available to domestic violence victims is available at  Legal Aid provides assistance to immigrant victims in some cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.  Legal Aid is not a government agency and does not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Katie Laskey-Donovan and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Are there housing protections for victims of domestic violence? Close

Victims of domestic violence are often forced to choose between abuse and homelessness. If a victim of abuse does not have any other place to live, victims many times will stay with their abuser.  Victims also face loss of housing and housing discrimination because of their abuser’s behavior.

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA 2013”) protects victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. In 2013, the law was expanded to provide more protections.

More People are Protected: VAWA 2013 covers victims of sexual assault in addition to victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  Also, VAWA 2013 now specifically protects Native American women, immigrants, LGBT victims, college students and youth.

Protections from Evictions: Under VAWA 2013, victims cannot be denied housing in federal housing programs because of being a victim of violence.  Victims also cannot be evicted from federal housing programs due to their status as victims or due to the actions of the abuser.

VAWA 2013 also created emergency housing transfer options in all federal housing programs.  Victims should be able to transfer to a different unit to have safer housing.  Plans for these options are being developed by local housing authorities.

College Students

VAWA 2013 also protects college students.  Schools must create a recording process for incidences of dating violence and report the findings. Schools also must create plans to prevent dating violence and educate victims on their rights, including the right to contact law enforcement.

Preferred Waiting Lists

Some public housing authorities and subsidized housing providers provide a preference to domestic violence victims on their waiting lists.  Victims may be able to secure subsidized housing more quickly than if they were on the regular waiting list.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, and you believe that you have been denied housing or that you are being evicted due to your abuser’s action, you should seek legal counsel.  Legal Aid provides assistance in some housing cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.


This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Abigail Staudt and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What should I know about Civil Protection Orders (CPOs)? Close

Civil Protection Orders (CPO) are intended to help protect domestic violence victims and hold abusers accountable for their actions. Under Ohio law, domestic violence victims (“petitioner”) to file a petition against their abuser (“ respondent”)to ask the court  for relief that may decrease the violence occurring within the family.

Only the court in each county that hears domestic relations matters may issue domestic violence CPOs.   . A petitioner must provide evidence to the court that he/she or a family or household member is in immediate and present danger of domestic violence. For example, a civil protection order may be considered where a family or household member experiences recent physical abuse, threats to harm or kill or stalking behavior.

A petitioner must fill out forms and complete a sworn statement describing the violence. She/he must appear in court with the forms which will be reviewed by a magistrate to decide if an “ex parte” order should be granted.  “Ex parte” means the respondent / abuser is not in court for the hearing.  If granted, the petitioner will get a temporary protection order after this first hearing.

There is another hearing within 7 or 10 court days. At this next hearing, the respondent can be present to dispute what the petitioner says or write in his or her statement. The protection order is either granted or denied.  Sometimes the parties may agree to the terms of the CPO.  If not,  there will be a  hearing before the magistrate to decide if the petitioner has presented enough evidence to obtain a CPO. If granted, the CPO can stay in place for up to 5 years. It can also be renewed, modified or terminated by further court hearing.

If granted, the court shall order that the abuser is stopped from abusing, threatening, or stalking the petitioner and other family or household members. The court may also stop an abuser from hurting the family pet.  The court can also prohibit the abuser from having contact with any family or household member or going to the home, school, or place of employment. The court may evict the abuser and grant immediate possession of the home to the victim. The court may also order support, custody, visitation, or use of property which may include the car.

A CPO may be obtained with or without an attorney. A victim may be accompanied by a victim advocate during all stages of the proceedings.  Call the hotline phone numbers listed in this newsletter to ask about availability of DV advocates. Legal Aid helps in some domestic violence CPO cases.  Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.


This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Alexandria Ruden and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Am I entitled to an attorney in guardianship proceedings? Close


Sometimes mental health or physical illnesses make it difficult for
a person to make decisions about their basic needs, finances, and
medical issues. If you or someone you care about struggles to
make these kinds of life decisions, a court can appoint someone
else to make the decisions. This process is called “guardianship.”

A guardianship starts with an application in Probate Court. Often,
the application is filed by a family member or a social service
agency. If someone applies to be a guardian for another person,
that person has the right to be at all Court hearings. The Court will
ask a doctor to evaluate the person, and the person has the right to
ask for an independent expert evaluation (a second opinion from a
different doctor). The person also has the right to have an attorney
represent him or her. If the person cannot afford an attorney or
independent expert evaluation, the court must pay these fees.

After the Court approves a guardianship, the person who struggles
to make decisions is called a “ward” and the “guardian” must
make decisions in his or her best interests. The guardian has to
talk with the ward when possible. If a ward later feels capable of
making independent decisions, he or she can ask the Court for a
“Guardianship Review Hearing.” A review hearing can happen
once a year; a request to modify or end the guardianship can be
made anytime.

Before 2013, few Ohio probate courts appointed the ward an
attorney in the Review Hearing. However, in January 2013, the
Ohio Supreme Court decided that all Probate Courts must appoint
an attorney if the ward could not afford one
in the case State ex rel. McQueen v. Cuyahoga County. Now,
Ohio law requires probate courts appoint an attorney to represent
a ward at any hearing reviewing or challenging the guardianship,
if the ward cannot afford counsel and requests an attorney.

For more information about guardianships, see Ohio Guardianship
Guide at Helpful
forms and other information may also be found at Disability Rights

This article was written by Deborah Dallman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What is the “Safe at Home” law related to public records? Close

New law protects victims’ addresses from public records: “Safe at Home” is an address confidentiality program that allows victims of domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking, rape or sexual battery to apply for an address designated by the Secretary of State (SOS) to serve as the person’s address to shield their residence address from public records, including voter registration lists.

Victims may only apply to participate in the program through a certified Application Assistant. When someone enrolls in Safe at Home, they are assigned a P.O. Box address.

There are many entities that may have a person’s name and address on file, and a program participant may request that any governmental or private entity, except for a municipal-owned public utility or the board of elections, use the P.O. Box address designated by the SOS as the participant’s address.

The law does not require a private entity to accept the SOS-designated address, but a state of Ohio governmental entity shall accept it.  More information and a link to find a certified application assistant can be found here.

Are there new Federal Child Support Regulations? Close

On January 19, 2017, a new rule related to child support enforcement, from the Administration for Children and Families and the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, became effective.

Per the Federal Register, “this rule is intended to carry out President Obama’s directives in Executive Order 13563: Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review. The final rule will make Child Support Enforcement program operations and enforcement procedures more flexible, more effective, and more efficient by recognizing the strength of existing State enforcement programs, advancements in technology that can enable improved collection rates, and the move toward electronic communication and document management.

This final rule will improve and simplify program operations, and remove outmoded limitations to program innovations to better serve families.”  States have approximately the next year to implement various provisions of the new rule.

When does a Grandparent need temporary custodial rights? Close

Grandparents sometimes find themselves caring for a grandchild unexpectedly. This often happens without any formal court order giving the grandparent custody or guardianship. Without custody or guardianship, the grandparent will face problems getting medical care for the child or dealing with the child’s school.

Ohio law offers two options that give temporary custodial rights to grandparents in this situation depending on whether the parent can be located. If the parent can be found and agrees that the child live with the grandparent, the parent and grandparent can together sign a grandparent power of attorney (POA). If only one parent signs the POA, then a copy of the POA must be sent by certified mail to the noncustodial parent.

If the parent cannot be found after reasonable efforts have been made to locate the parent, then a grandparent caretaker authorization affidavit (CAA) can be completed instead. Only the grandparent needs to sign the CAA.

Both the POA and CAA need to be notarized at the time the document is signed. Then within five days of being created, the document must be filed at the juvenile court for the county where the grandparent lives.

The POA and the CAA give the grandparent custodial rights and responsibilities for the care of the child. This means the grandparent can enroll the child in school, get information about the child from the school, and consent to medical care for the child. Neither the POA nor the CAA affect the rights of the parents or grant legal custody to the grandparent.

The POA and the CAA end when the person who created the document cancels it, the child stops living with the grandparent, or the parent terminates the CAA.

Forms and instructions for the grandparent power of attorney and the caretaker authorization affidavit can be
found on the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court website: under the heading, “Grandparent Power of Attorney and Caregiver Authorization.” These
forms can be used across Ohio.

This article was written by Katie Feldman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How do I request a change in child support? Close

The Administrative Process
If you pay child support or receive child support, you may ask that the amount be reviewed and adjusted. Generally you must wait 36 months since the support order was established or was last reviewed before requesting review.

If you start this “administrative adjustment and review process,” the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) or Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) (these are the same agency, just different names in different counties), is required to consider your case. The agency recommends upward or downward adjustment to the court. However, the amount could stay the same, if neither parent’s financial or household situation has changed.

If you want your child support order adjusted, contact the child support worker assigned to your case at the agency in the county where the order was issued and request an administrative modification or review. See contact info below.

When the agency receives your request, first the caseworker will determine if your case is eligible for an administrative review and adjustment. Second, the agency will tell you if your request was approved or denied. Sometimes the caseworker will ask you for more information. You must provide documents or other verification requested from you, otherwise your request will be denied. If the agency decides your child support should be modified, it will file an order with the appropriate Court.

The Court Process
You can ask that your child support order be reviewed sooner than 36 months under certain circumstances. You will have to apply to the court for such review. Common reasons for requesting a review include:

  • Either party has become employed or is earning more money
  • Loss of employment for at least 30 days in a row
  • Verified disability of either party
  • Institutionalization or incarceration of either party (unless the crime was for child abuse or child neglect, or domestic violence against the child or other party to the support order)
  • 30% change in gross income of either party for a period of six months
  • One or more children emancipated
  • To access availability of health insurance
  • The reasons that supported an increase or reduction in the previous child support order have changed or no longer apply
  • The obligor (person required to pay support) is departing for active armed service duty or is coming home from service in the armed forces

The document you will have to file with the court when requesting a modification of your child support order is called a “motion to modify.” Some courts have their own forms available on their websites. You may visit the Ohio Supreme Court website at for standardized forms. An affidavit is also required and must be signed in front of a notary; do not sign it until you are before a notary public.

Once the documents have been completed, signed and notarized, they must be filed with the Clerk of Court of the court that issued or enforced the support order (Domestic Relations or Juvenile). You should bring multiple copies of the documents with you, as the clerk will need copies to serve on the other party and to the CSEA or OCSS.

A filing fee is charged by the court. If you are eligible, you may want to file a poverty affidavit so that you won’t have to pay the filing fee up front. The court will determine who should pay the filing fee at the conclusion of the case.

You will also want to retain a date and time-stamped copy of the documents for your records. The originals will remain with the clerk. The clerk may provide you with additional instructions about filing and obtaining a hearing date. Be sure to follow the clerk’s instructions.

After your documents have been filed, the case is assigned to a judge or magistrate. Then, you will be notified about a hearing. You must attend all scheduled court proceedings and keep the court informed of your current address and telephone number. Otherwise, your motion will be

Keep in mind that the agency will continue to enforce the previous child support order until a decision is made on your motion to modify child support.

If you have questions about this process or need help with your forms, you may attend a free Brief Advice Clinic to talk to an attorney. The schedule and location for the Brief Advice Clinics is at

Ashtabula County Child Support Enforcement Agency
2924 Donahoe Drive
Ashtabula, Ohio 44004

Cuyahoga Job and Family Services
Office of Child Support Services
1640 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Department of Job and Family Services
Geauga County Child Support Enforcement Division
12480 Ravenwood Drive
P.O. Box 309
Chardon, Ohio 44024
440.285.9141 or
toll-free 1.800.209.7590

The Lake County Department of Job and Family Services
Child Support Enforcement Agency
177 Main Street
Painesville, Ohio 44077
440.918.4000, Option #5

Lorain County Job and Family Services
Child Support Enforcement Agency
42485 N. Ridge Road
P.O. Box 4004
Elyria, Ohio 44036

This article was written by Tracy Ferron and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!


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