Understanding Indiana Child Custody Laws: A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding Indiana Child Custody Laws: A Comprehensive Guide

Understanding Indiana child custody laws is critical for anyone involved in, or anticipating, a custody dispute. However, with the various statutes and guidelines scattered throughout the code, it can be nearly impossible to locate, sort through, and interpret it all. This blog explores Indiana custody law, where to find it, and what it might mean to you and your case. 

The large majority of child custody law is contained in Indiana’s Actions for Child Custody and Modification of Child Custody Orders statute (I.C. 31-17-2), which governs many custody issues, from jurisdiction to passport applications for the child. A large number of sections of this code do not apply in most custody cases, such as witness expenses (I.C. 31-17-2-19), military deployment (I.C. 31-17-2-21.1) and security or bond (I.C. 31-17-2-21.5). A handful of statutes and rules will be involved in all custody cases. These statutes and rules are ones that every parent with a child custody order, or anyone seeking a custody order, should be familiar with and understand how they may operate to affect their particular case. 

The custody order section of the code (I.C. 31-17-2-8) applies to all custody cases. This statute governs the factors and circumstances that a judge must consider when making a custody determination. The code provides that in an initial custody determination, there is no presumption in favor of either parent and custody will be decided based on the best interests of the child. It further lists the factors the judge will consider as affecting the child’s best interests when making a decision. These factors include: “(1) The age and sex of the child. (2) The wishes of the child's parent or parents. (3) The wishes of the child, with more consideration given to the child's wishes if the child is at least fourteen (14) years of age. (4) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with: (A) the child's parent or parents; (B) the child's sibling; and (C) any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests. (5) The child's adjustment to the child's: (A) home; (B) school; and (C) community. (6) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved. (7) Evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent.” Other factors affecting the best interests of the child may also be considered. Your attorney can help you decide what factors you should concentrate on when presenting evidence and witness testimony. 

It is important to note that this section of the code discusses physical custody only, or where the child sleeps a majority of the time. Indiana also recognizes legal custody, which gives one or both parents the right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing. Even if parents are awarded an equal amount of parenting time with the child, one parent will be designated as the primary physical custodian. Absent a court order stating otherwise, the parent with primary physical custody (I.C. 31-17-2-17), or if the child was born out of wedlock, the mother (I.C. 31-14-13-1), has sole legal custody. 

Joint legal custody may be granted, regardless of how parenting time is divided (31-17-2-14), if the court finds that joint custody is in the child’s best interests (31-17-2-13). The factors considered in making an award of joint legal custody are enumerated in Indiana’s joint legal custody statute (I.C. 31-17-2-15). These include whether the parties agree to joint legal custody or not, how close they live to one another, and if they can communicate effectively to share in the decision making process. 

Finally, a discussion about Indiana child custody laws would not be complete if parenting time were not addressed. Parenting time rights of a non-custodial parent are addressed in Indiana Code § 31-17-4. As with child custody laws, a majority of the sections under this code are not generally used in most custody cases. The important section of this code provides that the non-custodial parent is entitled to reasonable parenting time unless it would endanger or impair the child’s health or emotional development. The statute does not define “reasonable parenting time”, however the Indiana Supreme Court has created parenting time guidelines which not only serve to assist parents and courts in developing a parenting time plan (Ind. Par. Time. Guid. pmbl.) but sets the minimum amount of parenting time that a non-custodial parent should be granted. 

The guidelines also offer guidance on communication between the parents and the child, transportation, clothing, and parenting time schedule adjustments (Ind. Par. Time. Guid. I). Specific provisions, such as parenting time schedules for children of different ages and holidays (Ind. Par. Guid. II), parenting time when distance between the parents’ home is a major factor, non-traditional work schedules, and multiple children of different ages are also addressed (Ind. Par. Guid. III). The guidelines, however, are not set in stone, and parents should keep in mind that the courts expect them to work together to raise their children from different homes, using the guidelines as a starting point for negotiations, and requesting court involvement only when absolutely necessary to settle a dispute. 

This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.


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