Child custody can be a complex issue, and it is crucial to understand the laws and regulations surrounding it, especially if you’re going through a divorce or separation. In Indiana, child custody laws are designed to prioritize the best interests of the child. Understanding the different types of child custody, factors that are considered in custody decisions, procedures for determining custody, and enforcing custody orders can help you make informed decisions.
Types of Child Custody in Indiana
There are two types of child custody recognized in Indiana: legal custody, and physical custody (often referred to as parenting time).
Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education, medical care, and religious practices. In Indiana, courts typically award joint legal custody to both parents, but sole legal custody may be awarded in cases where one parent is deemed unfit or incapable of making decisions in the child’s best interest.
Physical custody/Parenting Time, on the other hand, refers to where the child resides and spends their time. If a parent has physical custody, they have the right to have the child live with them. Physical custody is often awarded in terms of ‘Primary’ and ‘Non-Custodial’ parent
Primary means that one parent has time with the child more often than the other parent, and non-custodial is the parent who has less than 50 percent time with the child.
Factors Considered in Child Custody Decisions
When deciding on child custody in Indiana, the court considers several factors to ensure the best interests of the child are met. Some (but not all) of these factors include:
- Best interest of the child: The primary factor considered in any child custody decision is the best interest of the child. The court will evaluate all the circumstances surrounding the child’s life to determine what is in their best interest.
- Child’s preference: If the child is old enough and mature enough to express a preference, the court will consider their opinion. However, the child’s preference is not the only factor considered, and the court will not base its decision solely on the child’s preference.
- Parent-child relationship: The court will consider the relationship each parent has with the child and their ability to provide emotional support, guidance, and love.
- Ability of each parent to provide for the child: The court will evaluate the financial ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs, including housing, food, clothing, and medical care.
- Domestic violence or abuse: If one parent has a history of domestic violence or abuse, the court will consider this factor when making a child custody decision.
Procedures for Determining Child Custody in Indiana
There are several procedures available for determining child custody in Indiana. These include:
- Mediation: Mediation is a process in which parents work with a neutral third-party mediator to negotiate a custody agreement. Mediation is typically less expensive and less adversarial than going to court.
- Court hearings: If mediation is unsuccessful, parents may go to court, where a judge will make a custody decision based on the evidence presented.
- Guardian Ad Litem: In some cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the family and to evaluate the child’s circumstances and make a recommendation to the court. A GAL’s recommendations are not the only factor the Court will consider but they can have a major impact on your case and are helpful in particularly complicated cases.
Modifying Child Custody in Indiana
In Indiana, a custody order can be modified if there is a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances”. This change must be significant enough to warrant a change in the custody arrangement. Additionally, the court will consider whether the modification is in the best interest of the child.
Enforcement of Child Custody Orders in Indiana
If a parent violates a custody order, there are several options available for enforcing the order. These include:
- Contempt of court: If one parent violates a custody order, the other parent may file a motion for contempt of court. If the court finds that the violating parent is in contempt, they may be subject to fines or even imprisonment.
- Police assistance: In extreme cases, a parent may need to involve law enforcement to enforce a custody order. However, this is usually a last resort.
- Custody modification: If a parent repeatedly violates a custody order, the other parent may seek to modify the custody order to prevent further violations.
In conclusion, child custody rights in Indiana are designed to prioritize the best interests of the child. Understanding the different types of custody, factors considered in custody decisions, procedures for determining custody, and enforcement of custody orders can help parents make informed decisions when going through a divorce or separation.
It’s important to note that each case is unique, and the court will evaluate all the circumstances surrounding the child’s life to make a custody decision. Seeking the advice of an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate the legal system and ensure your rights are protected.
Ultimately, the best interest of the child should always be the top priority when making custody decisions. By working together and putting the child’s needs first, parents can create a positive co-parenting relationship that benefits everyone involved.