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How Custody Is Determined in Indiana

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2020 | Family Law, Personal Injury

The courts consider numerous factors when determining child custody in Indiana. To help them make decisions that are in the child’s best interests, judges often obtain reports from court-appointed guardians, social services, and other neutral outside entities.

Determining Child Custody in Indiana

When a parent files a petition for divorce, legal separation, or child support through a family law attorney, the court schedules a hearing to determine child custody. If parents do not resolve their case through mutual agreement, Indiana laws give the judge authority to make decisions on child custody issues including parenting time and the allocation of parental responsibilities.

The court generally uses eight factors to determine child custody in Indiana. The best interests of the child are the top priority. In Indiana, child custody laws allow the child to be brought into court for an interview in certain cases. The wishes of the children generally carry more weight when they are over 14 years old.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to the place where a child physically resides and the day-to-day care the child receives, such as providing meals, bathing, sleeping arrangements, and transportation to school and social activities. Indiana’s custody laws make no assumptions about which parent is the best parent based on gender. Laws do not favor either parent when determining physical custody and what is in the best interest of the child. Both parents start out on equal footing with the court. To determine physical custody, the court considers important factors including:

  • Age and sex of the child
  • Relationship of the child with both parents
  • Wishes of the child’s parents
  • Wishes of the child, especially children age 14 or older
  • Physical and mental health of involved parties
  • Evidence of domestic abuse or violence by either parent

Legal Custody

Legal custody addresses the right of a parent to make important decisions in a child’s life. This may include decisions about a child’s education, religious upbringing, cultural influences, and health and wellness issues. If a dispute arises between parents about legal custody issues, an Indiana family law attorney can help to resolve issues or go to court for resolution when parents can not reach an agreement.

In Indiana, a judge decides child custody cases without a jury. Once a final decision is made, the judge issues a written order or decree. Judges often receive help from outside neutral sources when making legal custody decisions. They may request reports from court-appointed guardians, private evaluators, and social service agencies.

Sole or Joint Custody

Physical custody can be granted by the court as “sole custody” to one parent or divided as “joint custody” between both parents. Joint physical custody means the child’s living situation or home will be divided between both parents, a ruling that works best for parents who live in close proximity. To determine sole or joint custody, the court considers certain factors:

  • Suitability and fitness of each parent
  • Physical and emotional environment in each parent’s home
  • Living proximity between parents
  • Willingness of both parents to cooperate in raising the child
  • The child’s relationship with both parents
  • The child’s wishes concerning living arrangements

Child Parenting Time

When one parent is awarded sole physical custody of a child, Indiana laws require that the non-custodial parent must also receive a reasonable amount of “parenting time” with the child. Parenting time, also referred to as visitation in some states, is the time that parents without physical custody get to spend with their children. Parenting time is not awarded to a non-custodial parent when it endangers the child’s physical and/or emotional health and welfare. In such cases, parenting time is usually limited or supervised by court-appointed parties.

If parenting time might cause endangerment or injuries to a child, a judge may order supervised parenting time which is generally held in a neutral location until the situation improves. This means that all visitation must be supervised by a third party, usually a court-appointed juvenile court staff member, a local probation officer, or a social service agency. In some cases, the court may grant supervised parenting time with a trusted family member.

In Indiana, parents are allowed to make changes to parenting time orders by filing a motion with an Indiana family law attorney to modify the orders. However, the judge must see valid evidence and proof that warrants changes to existing arrangements. Any modification must be shown that it is in the best interest of the child by the court. Otherwise, it will likely be denied. If changes to parenting time orders are seen by the court to be based on a personal gain for either parent, the court will likely decline the motion.