Parental Unfitness for a Child Who Is Not Abandoned or Orphaned In Ohio

In Ohio, parents who are suitable persons maintain a paramount right to custody of their minor children. Clark v. Bayer (1877), 32 Ohio St. 299, 310; In re Perales (1977), 52 Ohio St.2d 89, 97, 369 N.E.2d 1047; In re Murray (1990), 52 Ohio St.3d 155, 157, 556 N.E.2d 1169. The state may not award permanent custody of a child to a non-parent without first finding that the child's natural parents are unsuitable. In re Perales, supra, syllabus. Parental unfitness for a child who is not abandoned or orphaned requires a finding that the child, "cannot be placed with either of the child's parents within a reasonable time or should not be placed with the child's parents." R.C. 2151.414(B)(1)(a). To enter such a finding, the court must conclude that the evidence presented clearly and convincingly discloses that the parent in question is unsuitable for one of the reasons articulated in R.C. 2151.414(E). In re William S. (1996), 75 Ohio St.3d 95, 1996 Ohio 182, 661 N.E.2d 738, syllabus. In a termination of parental rights proceeding, all of the court's findings must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. R.C. 2151.414(E). The court's decision to terminate parental rights will not be overturned as against the manifest weight of the evidence if the record contains competent, credible evidence by which the court could have formed a firm belief or conviction that the essential statutory elements for a termination of parental rights have been established. In re Forrest S. (1995), 102 Ohio App. 3d 338, 345, 657 N.E.2d 307; Cross v. Ledford (1954), 161 Ohio St. 469, 120 N.E.2d 118, paragraph three of the syllabus.