Understanding how to file for visitation rights in Indiana can help ensure that non-custodial parents and grandparents have the opportunity to establish or maintain relationships with the children. Whether a parent or grandparent is granted visitation, or “parenting time” with the children is based on the children’s best interests as determined by the Court.
Child Custody and Visitation in Indiana
In Indiana, a parent of a minor may request visitation rights as part of an open divorce, parentage, or custody case.
There are two types of custody in Indiana, physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the child physically lives as well as the day-to-day care the child receives. Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions in a child’s life, such as educational, medical, etc. Parents can share both types of custody, and either type could also be granted to just one parent.
Judges will decide on joint legal custody when it is in the child’s best interest and if the parents can show they’re able to get along with one another. In addition, the courts will look at factors including:
- Each parent’s fitness and suitability
- Whether parents are willing and able to communicate and cooperate in advancing the child’s welfare
- The child’s wishes, with more consideration given if the child is at least 14 years old
- Whether the child has established a close and beneficial relationship with both parents
- Whether the parents live close to each other and plan to continue to do so
- The physical and emotional environment in each parent’s home
If a judge is involved because the parents were unable to reach an agreement on their own, that judge can request assistance from outside neutral sources, such as custody evaluators, court-appointed guardians, and social service agencies. Judge’s usually follow Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, but they are not required to if they have a reason not to when determining custody or visitation. The written orders they issue as final decisions are called decrees.
Judges are also granted the power to order counseling for children who are having difficulty coping with the divorce and custody situation.
It is best to consult with a family law attorney to ensure the best results.
Indiana Parenting Time
Visitation in Indiana is knowns as “parenting time.” That is the amount of time that non-custodial parents get to spend with the child. Courts try to facilitate parenting time unless doing so would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair emotional development. If parents are unable to create a plan together, how custody is decided is that the court’s looks at what’s in the best interest of the child, with the following factors in mind:
- Age and gender of the child
- Parental wishes
- Wishes of the child, with more consideration given if the child is at least 14 years of age
- Interaction and interrelationships of the child with his or her parents and siblings
- The child’s adjustment to school, home, and the community
- Mental and physical health of all individuals involved
- Evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent
Visitation for extended families, such as grandparents and other relatives, is less clear. Indiana has special statutes regarding grandparents’ visitation rights, depending on parental situations. For instance, grandparents do not have visitation rights in general, but if there is a death, or divorce or a single parent, then visitation rights can be established by the Court in some circumstances. Adoption cuts off the visitation rights of the grandparents unless that adoption is granted to a stepparent or natural grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew of the child.
How Custody and Visitation Is Handled in Contested Cases
If the custodial parents need help in a high-conflict custody case, Indiana’s Parenting Time Guidelines recently updated the section on parallel parenting, which allowed each person to co-parent while having limited direct contact, to something called Shared Parenting
The idea of shared parenting is that although each set of circumstances between parents is unique, the main idea is that the children feel “at home” in each person’s house and should insulate the children from most of the material and emotional losses that occur frequently with parental separation.
In addition, these guidelines add a section called “Two Houses, One Home,” to outline more specifics about not just the surroundings in the places the children will live but the need for routines to remain the same regardless of which parents’ home they’re living in at the moment. According to the guidelines, the benefit is that “day to day living can be focused more on growth and development, and less on adaptation,” if there is a degree of consistency between the two residencies.
In addition, there are a variety of co-parenting apps that make communication, scheduling, and tracking of children’s activities easier so that the two parties do not have to even to see each other in person or talk on the phone, making these seamless transitions easier to foster.
Are the Courts Always Involved in Custody Disputes?
In Indiana, under custody law, a court is not always necessary to resolve a dispute over custody. Sometimes, the parents are able to work out an agreement using a mediator or through other less formal means of settlement. Going to court is only necessary when the parents are unable to reach an agreement about what’s best for their child.
When a custody arrangement is created where there is a potential danger to the children’s physical or mental health, a court might provide for supervised visitation. Supervised visitation involves a third party who observes the interaction between the parent and child at a court-approved child advocacy center or other trusted adult and is usually only provided for when there is proof of a parent with a history of domestic abuse, violence, drug abuse or if a parent has been deemed unfit by the court. Courts can impose supervised visitation for up to two years. In these cases, physicians, mental health evaluators, counselors, parenting coordinators, and guardian ad litems are involved and provide reports to the court.
Custodial Parent and Relocation
Relocation depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case. However, the relocating individual must file a notice of intent with the clerk of the court, which has specific timing and content requirements, and the court will set a hearing date upon motion from either the custodial or non-custodial parent. The relocating individual has the burden to prove that the proposed relocation is being made in good faith and for legitimate reasons, and the non-relocating parent must show if that’s proven to be true, how the proposed relocation is not in the best interest of the children.
Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines
In most cases involving custody, the courts will look to the Indiana Parenting Time Rules and Guidelines, adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court after being drafted by the Domestic Relations Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana. The guidelines recognize that children of parents who live apart have special needs related to the parent-child relationship, which changes as the child matures and that each parenting time agreement should reflect the unique needs of both their children and their circumstances.
It outlines a child’s basic needs and asks the parents to recognize and address the following:
- To know that the parent’s decision to live apart is not the children’s fault
- To develop and maintain an independent relationship with each parent and to have the continuing care and guidance from each parent.
- To be free from having to side with either parent and to be free from conflict between the parents.
- To have a relaxed, secure relationship with each parent without being placed in a position to manipulate one parent against the other.
- To enjoy regular and consistent time with each parent.
- To be financially supported by each parent, regardless of how much time each parent spends with the child.
- To be physically safe and adequately supervised when in the care of each parent and to have a stable, consistent, and responsible child care arrangement when not supervised by a parent.
- To develop and maintain meaningful relationships with other significant adults (grandparents, stepparents, and other relatives) as long as these relationships do not interfere with or replace the child’s primary relationship with the parents.
Parenting in a Public Health Emergency
Indiana updated its Parenting Time Guidelines as of Jan. 1, 2022, to account for situations that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include affirming that existing court orders for both custody and parenting time shall remain in place during a public health emergency, outlining that custody and parenting time will not be impacted by a school’s closure during a public health emergency, and allowing for temporary modification of the agreement to account for changes that need to be made because of the public health emergency and how to pay child support and file documents.
In addition, the document contains a new commentary section that a parent’s decision to forgo parenting time in order to protect the children’s health and well-being or to insulate the health and well-being of a household member during a public health emergency should not be considered voluntary relinquishment of parenting time. It also accounts for how “make-up” time should be considered when it is feasible for visitation to start again.