When parents are seeking a divorce, one or both parents may file for legal custody of a child as part of the divorce (dissolution) action or legal separation.
What is Legal Custody?
In Indiana, there are two basic types of child custody – physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where a child is physically located or resides. Legal custody refers to how to deal with major decisions that arise in a child’s life.
Legal custody refers to determination of which parent makes important decisions regarding the welfare of a child. Indiana legal custody laws address powers and obligations of parents regarding a child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Parents can share joint legal custody or one parent can have sole legal custody.
When a married couple files for divorce, one or both parents can file for legal custody with the court. The request is generally included in legal documents drawn up by a family law attorney. One or both parents are entitled to legal custody, unless there is evidence that one parent is unfit.
If the court awards shared joint legal custody, the law allows for delineation of decision-making in each area. For example, the father may make healthcare decisions, the mother may make religious upbringing decisions, and both parents may make joint decisions about education. If the court awards sole legal custody to only one parent, the other parent may still be granted parenting time.
How is Legal Custody Determined?
In all Indiana child custody cases, the court makes decisions based on the best interest of the child, with considerations of the child’s safety and physical, mental, and emotional needs. In most cases, a judge will consider frequent contact between both parents and the child as being in the child’s best interest, unless there is evidence that proves otherwise.
When determining legal custody, the court looks at various factors that impact the child’s best interest:
- The ability of parents to cooperate and accommodate the child’s needs
- The physical and mental health of both parents
- Conflicts between the parents
- Parental relationships with the child
- History of parental abuse or neglect of the child
- History of domestic violence against a parent or child
When parents file for divorce, there are many concerns that impact family life moving forward. A family law attorney can provide legal advice and proper court documents on all matters of divorce, physical and legal child custody, and child support.