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Our Domestic Relations Court is a division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. What follows is a brief explanation of the Ohio court system; where the Domestic Relations Court fits in; and, this Court’s role in the Ohio judicial system.
The Supreme Court of Ohio
The Supreme Court of Ohio is the highest court in the state system, sometimes called “the court of last resort.” Most, but not all, of the cases the Supreme Court hears are appeals from the state’s lower courts. The Court is made up of the Chief Justice and six Justices. All seven hear and decide each case.
There are some types of appeals that the Supreme Court is required to accept and hear: death penalty cases, constitutional questions under the United States Constitution or Ohio Constitution; cases where there have been conflicting decisions in two or more courts of appeals; and, a small number of special cases that begin in the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court also must accept appeals from certain administrative agencies, such as the Public Utilities Commission or the Board of Tax Appeals.
However, most of the appeals that come before the Supreme Court are under its “discretionary jurisdiction.” In these cases, a party must first ask the Court to accept the case. In criminal cases, a party must ask for leave to appeal. In civil cases, a party must show that the case raises issues “of public or great general interest.” On average, the Supreme Court accepts about 10% of the cases seeking discretionary review.
There are also a few “original actions,” called “writs,” that may be filed in the Supreme Court without first being heard in a lower court.
The Supreme Court is also responsible for developing the various court rules, e.g., Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, Ohio Rules of Evidence, etc.
The Supreme Court oversees the admission to practice and discipline of attorneys practicing in this state.
The Supreme Court of Ohio has the final say on how the Ohio Constitution and Ohio laws are interpreted. The Ohio Supreme Court’s interpretation of the United States Constitution may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals of Ohio
The Court of Appeals is called an “intermediate court,” between the trial courts and the Supreme Court. The main job of the Court of Appeals is to hear appeals from the common pleas courts, municipal courts, and county courts. Almost all appeals filed in the Court of Appeals are considered “appeal of right,” that is, the Court of Appeals must hear and decide the case (unlike the Supreme Court’s discretionary jurisdiction).
The state is divided into twelve Appellate Districts. There are three districts that each cover a single county; the largest district includes seventeen counties. Each district has at least four judges; the largest has twelve judges. The Eighth District is a one-county district: Cuyahoga County. The Eighth District has twelve judges. The Eighth District Court of Appeals hears appeals from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas (including the Domestic Relations Division) and the thirteen Municipal Courts in the county. (There is no county court in Cuyahoga County.)
Each appeal is heard and decided by a panel of three randomly-assigned judges. One of those judges is selected to write an opinion, explaining the decision. (If the panel is not unanimous, the judge who disagrees may write a “dissenting opinion” explaining why he/she disagrees.)
On those rare occasions when one three-judge panel makes a decision that conflicts with the decision of another three-judge panel in the same Appellate District, in order to resolve the conflict, all of the judges in that district may consider the case “en banc” ( Latin meaning “in bank”). A majority vote of all the judges in that district decides which of the two rulings will be followed in future cases. If a decision from one district conflicts with a decision from a different district, that conflict must be resolved by the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Cases requesting one of the “writs” (see above) may also be filed in the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Common Pleas
There is a court of Common Pleas in each of Ohio’s eighty-eight counties. This is a trial court of general jurisdiction. The organization of the court and the number of judges depends on the population and case load of the county. The Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas has four divisions: General, Domestic Relations, Juvenile, and Probate. There are a total of 47 judges on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas: General Division (34), Domestic Relations Division (5); Juvenile Division (6); and, Probate Division (2).
Each division also has magistrates, who assist the judges by ruling on motions and preliminary matters, and may conduct trials or hearings.
The General Division tries all criminal felony cases and civil lawsuits involving more than $15,000. This division also hears appeals from some administrative agency decisions.
Domestic Relations Division
The Domestic Relations Division has jurisdiction to hear all cases involving divorce or dissolution of marriage, annulment, and legal separation. This division also handles child support, spousal support, and allocation of parental rights and responsibilities related to divorce, dissolution, annulment or legal separation. Likewise, this division enforces the terms of a divorce, dissolution or legal separation. In Cuyahoga County, the Domestic Relations Division also handles requests to enforce support orders from other states (Uniform Interstate Family Support Act or “UIFSA”). In domestic violence situations, the Domestic Relations Division issues Civil Protection Orders.
The Juvenile Division hears cases involving persons under 18 who are charged with acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult. This division also hears cases dealing with unruly, dependent or neglected children. Cases about paternity, child abuse, contributing to the delinquency of minors, failure to send children to school, and nonsupport are also heard in Juvenile Division. The Juvenile Division hears cases involving paternity, custody and child support that are not connected to a divorce, dissolution or annulment, such as where the parents have never married.
The Probate Division hears disputes over wills and estates, and supervises various guardianships. It also handles adoptions. The Probate Division holds hearings to determine sanity and competency. This division issues marriage licenses – and Probate Judges perform marriages.
Municipal and County Courts
These courts have similar authority. County courts are usually found in rural or sparsely-populated areas not served by a municipal court. These courts hear traffic cases and misdemeanor crimes; they also conduct preliminary hearings in felony crimes. Municipal and county courts hear lawsuits involving up to $15,000. (The small claims division of municipal or county court hears disputes involving $3,000 or less.)
Municipal and county court judges also perform marriages.
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