How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Indiana

Learn more about domestic violence and its impact on custody decisions in Indiana.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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Indiana domestic violence hotlines answer more than 500 calls per day from victims seeking help. The Indiana state legislature recognizes that children who witness violence in the household are much more likely to become abusers or domestic violence victims when they are adults. Due to these facts, the state has written laws specifically to deal with custody cases where one parent commits domestic violence.

This article explains Indiana's definition of domestic violence and how it affects custody decisions. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.

Child Custody in Indiana

In child custody cases, Indiana judges decide how to award parents "legal custody," meaning which parent will make educational, health and other major decisions for the child, and "physical custody," or where the child will live and how much time the child will spend with each parent.

Indiana courts may consider any and all of the following factors when deciding legal and physical custody:

  • the child's age and sex
  • the child's parents' wishes
  • the child's wishes, especially if the child is 14 or older
  • the child's interactions with his or her parents, siblings, and any other person who significantly affects the child's best interest
  • the child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, and
  • domestic violence by either parent.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is violent criminal conduct between current or former spouses, a parent and child, parents of a child in common, people who currently date or previously dated, or people who live in the same household. Violent criminal conduct that qualifies as domestic violence includes:

  • assault
  • battery
  • kidnapping or unlawful confinement
  • sexual assault or battery, or
  • threats of any of the above crimes.

What to Do When There is Domestic Violence

If you have recently experienced domestic violence or are in immediate fear of future violence, you should call 911.

If you have been a victim of domestic violence in the past, or believe that you or your children may be in danger of future harm, you should obtain a "Protection Order." A protection order is signed by a judge and prohibits your attacker from future violence against you. A protection order may also include provisions that:

  • prohibit the abuser from committing, or threatening to commit acts of violence, stalking, or sex offenses against you, your family, or household members
  • prohibit the abuser from harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting, or directly or indirectly communicating with you
  • order the abuser to stay away from your residence, school, place of employment, or other places, and
  • order the abuser to stay away from places where your family or household members regularly go.

You can get a protection order on your own by completing a "Petition for Order of Protection" and filing it with your local trial court. You can use the form petition found here. You can also have a domestic violence agency file for a protective order on your behalf. Find an agency close to you here.

After you file the petition, you'll meet with a judge who can immediately issue a temporary protection order that lasts 30 days, until your protection order hearing. Both you and your abuser must attend the hearing, where the judge will decide if you are in future danger. If the judge believes you are in danger, the court can issue a protection order that lasts for two years. The protection order may also grant the following:

  • evict the abuser from your residence
  • order your abuser to give you possession of a car or motor vehicle and other personal items
  • give you custody of any children
  • require that the abuser's visitation time with a child be supervised, or deny visitation altogether
  • order the abuser to pay your rent, child support, your attorney's fees, and other expenses, and
  • prohibit your abuser from owning a firearm, and require him or her to turn over any weapons to a law enforcement agency.

The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a 24-hour hotline and other resources to help victims of domestic violence. Many cities in Indiana have shelters for victims of domestic violence. You can also find domestic violence resources for your county here.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody Decisions

At the beginning of each custody case in Indiana, each parent must notify the judge if they know about any of the other parent's court proceedings relating to domestic violence, protective orders, or termination of parental rights with other children, whether in the past or present. Courts have the ability to expedite custody proceedings in cases where there is domestic violence.

The judge determines custody based on what is in the child's best interest. If a court finds that a parent has committed domestic violence, the judge may order that the abusive parent receive limited or no visitation.

If the judge does grant a parent visitation who has committed domestic violence, he or she can decide when, where, and under what conditions visitation takes place, to protect you and your child. The court can order supervised visitation for the abusive parent. The judge may also order the abusive parent to post a bond that is refunded after that parent returns the child safely.

Supervised Visitation

If a parent has been convicted of a crime involving domestic violence, the court will begin its custody decision with the presumption that the abusive parent's visitation must be supervised. Supervised visitation lasts between one to two years after the domestic violence crime.

The court can also order that the abusive parent complete a batterer's intervention program before unsupervised visitation resumes.

Termination of Parental Rights

The court may terminate the rights of an abusive parent in extreme circumstances. A court has to have previously removed the child from the abusive parent for the judge to consider termination of parental rights. Also, the court must believe that the parent-child relationship threatens the well-being of the child, or that the reasons for the child's removal from the abusive parent are likely to continue.

If you have other questions about domestic violence and child custody in Indiana, contact a local family law attorney.

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