“Physical custody” refers to the place where the child physically resides and the day-to-day care the child receives, such as bathing, meal preparation, and transportation.
“Legal custody” concerns the right of a parent to make important decisions in a child’s life, such as decisions about the child’s education, religious and cultural upbringing, and health and wellness.
In Indiana, the distinction between sole and joint custody is very important. A “joint” custody award means the parties will share custody to some degree. But a “sole” custody award means that one parent is given all or most rights.
In Indiana, it’s not necessary to go to court to resolve a custody dispute; many parents are able to work out a mutually satisfying settlement of their custody issues. Other parents are able to settle custodial disputes through alternative measures, such as mediation.
However, when parents absolutely can’t agree about what’s best for their child, they go to court. In the State of Indiana, custody cases are tried before a judge who decides the case without a jury and issues a written order, or “decree” that contains the final decision.
Judges sometimes get help when they’re making custody decisions. They can request reports from neutral outside entities, like private evaluators, court-appointed guardians, and social service agencies. They also have the power to order counseling for kids who are having trouble coping.
When Indiana judges face disputes about custody, the law requires them to apply a list of eight factors to decide what’s in the child’s “best interests.” Neither parent enjoys a “presumption” (an assumption) that they are superior to the other parent. The factors are:
A judge will award joint legal custody only if it’s in the child’s best interests. If parents want joint legal custody, it’s very important that they show they’re able to get along with one another. To decide whether to award legal custody to one or both parents, the court will look at some additional factors, including:
It’s important to know that just because a court awards two parents joint legal custody, it does mean they will be awarded equal physical custody. Indiana law is very specific on this point, and it’s common for one parent to have sole physical custody while sharing joint legal custody with the other parent.
“Parenting time,” also known as visitation in other states, is the time that parents without physical custody spend with their children. In Indiana, a parent who doesn’t have physical custody of a child is still entitled to reasonable parenting time with the child, unless the court holds a hearing and decides that parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or “significantly impair” (cause major harm) to his or her emotional development.
If parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair emotional development, a judge may order “supervised parenting time” until the situation improves, which means that all visitation must be supervised by a third party. The court may order a social service agency, juvenile court staff, the local probation department, or a private agency to be present during parenting time to ensure that it’s safe and healthy. It’s also common for the parties to agree to have parenting time supervised by a trusted individual, like a grandparent. The court can also order parenting time to occur at a secure, neutral location.
Yes. If you want to make changes to a current custody or parenting time order, you’ll need to file a motion to modify (change) custody or parenting time and prove to a judge that there has been a change of circumstances, which warrants changing the existing arrangements.
If you have questions about custody or modifying custody orders, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (presented by the Indiana Judicial Branch)
Indiana Self-Service Legal Center, Family Legal Resources (presented by the Indiana Judicial Branch)