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Do minors have a place in contested visitation proceedings?

Ohio minor argues Constitutional Right to participate in a parental dispute.

At Bucyrus High School today, the Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of In re A.G. This case begs the question: Do the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution guarantee minors the right to attend and participate in disputed visitation proceedings between parents? Professor Marianna Brown Bettman lends some insight into this important case on her blog, Legally Speaking Ohio.

Case background.

A.G. was born in December of 1995, and in 1998 her father filed for divorce. The couple fought fiercely for their daughter’s custody, shuttling her between homes and eventually landing her in foster care. Both parents even faced legal repercussions after each fled to foreign countries with A.G. in an effort to circumvent custody orders.

Her mother was awarded custody when the divorce was finalized in 2001, and her father, after a period of suspended visitation, was allowed some supervised visitation during the summer.

However, the outcome of those summer months is in contention. While A.G. insisted that she felt afraid and threatened by her father’s anger management issues, the supervising social workers maintained that the visits were constructive. Additionally, “A.G.’s guardian ad litem believed A.G.’s mother was influencing A.G.’s bad perception of her father,” Bettman writes.

In 2009, A.G.’s father filed a motion for unsupervised visitation. The 13-year-old hired a lawyer to file a motion to terminate all visitation with her father and, subsequently, a motion for “leave to permit her attendance and participation at trial.” The trial court denied the motion for leave, concluding that A.G. did not have a constitutional right to be present during a trial that involved a conflict between her parents. Later, the trial court granted her father’s motion for unsupervised visitation. The Sixth District Court of Appeals, the court affirmed the judgment of the trial court on appeal.

The arguments.

A.G. argues that she was denied her due process rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and the Ohio Constitution when she was prohibited from participating in the trial.

However, her father argues that A.G. was afforded sufficient due process through the application of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, which apply in this case. Specifically, her father “argues that minors are already afforded due process and even have a qualified right to testify in court proceedings. While he agrees that A.G. was not allowed to sit in the courtroom, he argues that she was allowed to participate, and that her lawyer and her mother adequately and appropriately protected her interests,” Bettman writes.