Indiana Child Custody Laws

Indiana Child Custody

Here’s what you should know if you’re engaged in a child custody action in Indiana.

What are the Types of Child Custody in Indiana?

Indiana courts generally honor both long-term and short-term custody arrangements agreed to by parents. The court may issue temporary orders, often referred to as pendente lite custody, ending when the divorce is finalized. The orders are replaced with a permanent arrangement that remains in force until it no longer applies or is modified by the court.

There are several different types of custody, and they can overlap, so it’s essential for parents to understand each of them.

Joint physical custody is awarded when each parent has relatively equal time with the children. If the children live with a particular parent, that parent is said to have sole physical custody. The parent takes care of the children on a day-to-day basis and makes sure the children go to school, medical appointments, and extra-curricular activities.

Under the Indiana child visitation guidelines, each parent is entitled to regular and reasonable time with their child. Parenting time is the time that parents without physical custody spend with their children.

A court will try to facilitate visitation even when a parent has substance abuse or anger management problems. In these cases, a judge may allow supervised visitation. The court may order a social service agency, juvenile court staff, or a private agency to be present during parenting time to ensure that it is safe and healthy.

Legal custody is deciding which parent has the power to make decisions regarding a child’s life.  That may include medical, religious, and school issues, among others.

Joint custody means both parents have the right to have an input in decision-making concerning the children. This type of arrangement works best for parents willing to work together for the children’s sake and when they live near each other.

Indiana courts award sole legal custody, or parents agree that one of them is the child’s primary caretaker. That parent will have the right to make the decisions concerning the children.

Sole custody is less common but may be awarded when one parent has any of the following issues:

  • Engaged in domestic violence, abuse, or neglect against the other parent or any of the children
  • Substance abuse or alcohol problem
  • Legal problems such as arrests, convictions, or jail time
  • The parent has not been involved in the children’s lives
  • Other factors which make sole custody the best choice for the children

Read More:  How to File For Divorce in Indiana

Determining Child Custody in Indiana

All custody decisions are based on the child’s best interests.  Indiana child custody statutes identify eight factors that help the court decide which parent should get custody of the child and how parenting time is determined.

Those factors are:

  • The age and sex of the child
  • The wishes of the parents in the custody determination.
  • The wishes of the child, with more consideration given to the child’s wishes if the child is at least 14 years old.
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with:
    • The parents
    • Other siblings or step-siblings.
    • Any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
  • Evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent.
  • Evidence that the child has been cared for by a de facto custodian, and if the evidence is sufficient, the court shall consider other factors.

Divorcing parents often agree to custody and support obligations before the court issues the official Divorce Decree. The court will use this agreement as a potential guideline for granting support and custody in these cases.

Do I need to use a Guardian ad Litem or custody evaluator?

A judge may order assistance from a Guardian ad Litem to help the court learn more about each parent and their relationship with the child.  Depending on your child’s age, the court will likely try to determine a custody arrangement without requiring your child’s appearance in court.

What is the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act?

The PKPA allows any state to honor and enforce a custody order issued by another state’s court to prevent parental kidnapping. It prohibits a second state from exercising jurisdiction when another court is already exercising jurisdiction in a child custody matter, thus preventing a parent from seeking the intervention of a new court that may provide them with a more favorable ruling.

Read More:  132 Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced and Separated Parents

What to Know About Parenting Plans

Parenting plans are detailed instructions about each child’s physical and legal custody issues when parents divorce or are legally separated.  Parents can create their own plans or can do so with the help of a mediator or a family law attorney.  If parents can’t agree on their own, the court will create a parenting plan as part of the custody order.

Parenting plans typically include:

  • Physical custody details, including the number of overnight visits for each parent.
  • How is legal custody applied?
  • How is a child permitted to communicate with both parents
  • Communication between parents, including a preferred method of contact
  • Can the child have contact with other family members and friends?
  • How are expenses handled?  These could be related to medical costs, school activities, tuition, hobbies, and recreational activities.
  • Children’s use of technology and online activities
  • Child support payment amounts and recourse if a parent falls behind.
  • Exchanging children, including when, where, and time of day
  • Transporting children for visitation and other necessary movements
  • Access to the child’s records and information
  • Which parent has the child during holiday schedules and school break schedules
  • Vacation and travel approval and advance notifications
  • How to address child discipline and mental health issues
  • Guidelines when a new partner is involved
  • Grooming and dress guidelines (extreme haircuts, make-up, etc.)
  • Drinking or drug use in the presence of the children

Read More:  How to Prepare for a Divorce Hearing

How Do I Modify an Indiana Custody or Visitation Order?

When an order is put in place, it becomes a legal and enforceable agreement that the court can only change.  Failing to adhere to the terms of the agreement can result in contempt of court charges that may lead to various types of reprimands and punishment.

Under Indiana law, if a significant life event occurs, you can change the terms of the custody order if you petition the court.  You’ll need to explain why the modification is required and how it applies to the child’s best interests.  Changes can be a health issue, job change, if the child becomes endangered, or if a parent wants to move away from the immediate area.

A judge will listen to the evidence and then issue a ruling which will either modify the agreement or keep the original provisions in place.

Indiana Child Custody FAQs

Does anyone pay child support if parents share custody?

Whether a party pays child support will be based on the result of a formula created by Indiana lawmakers that consider each party’s gross weekly income, the cost of the child’s daycare, if necessary, and who pays for it, health care costs, and the amount of parenting time the non-custodial parent exercises.

It is a separate issue from custody arrangements and will have little bearing outside of what the formula dictates.

If both parents share custody and their incomes are similar, they may be able to avoid a separate child support obligation. Parents can also agree to forego a child support order and instead provide for the expenses associated with the child’s care during their parenting time.

Can a parent refuse to allow visitation if child support is not paid?

No!  Parenting time may not be refused based solely on the failure to pay child support.  If a parent does this, they may be held in contempt and face enforcement actions by the court.

When can a child decide which parent to live with?

Minor children do not get to decide.  The courts decide until a child reaches 18.  However, at 14, the court will consider a child’s wishes when make a determination.

Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights in Indiana?

Grandparents can pursue visitation with their grandchildren through the court.

The court may grant visitation if the child’s mother or father is deceased, if the child’s parents were divorced in Indiana, or if the child was born out of wedlock. A grandparent’s visitation rights survive the adoption of a child by a stepparent or by the child’s grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew.

What if a parent tries to move the kids out of state?

Indiana child custody laws require that individuals subject to a parenting time or visitation order must file and serve upon the other party a notice of intent to relocate.  Unlike some other states, there is no distance restriction for this requirement.

The relocation notice must be filed and served upon the other party no less than 90 days before the parent intends to relocate. The notice must contain the information pertinent to the new location.  The other parent can dispute the move by filing a motion with the court.  That will result in a hearing where the judge will listen to the evidence and decide the matter based on what the child’s best interests are.

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