"Everyone knows everything and everybody in my small county. Can I change counties in Indiana in my divorce case or post-decree modification?"
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is asked this question on a frequent basis. Clients see the provision for changing counties of venue as applicable to their situation. This rule was revised several years ago, making it harder to change venue from the county where the matter occurred and in which it is filed for trial — although, if the parties agree, they may file in a different county.
This change-of-venue rule usually only applies to obtaining a fair jury trial. There is no right to a trial by jury in Indiana. So, this rule does not apply to domestic litigation. However, it is possible to obtain a different judge.
As a general rule, a change of judge request may be made at the outset of a divorce or paternity case in some circumstances. After a paternity adjudication or divorce decree is entered, a party has the right to one change of judge, post-decree. This is the rule that is applicable to a divorce and paternity case.
This post-decree change is for the rest of the case and for the child’s lifetime. This does not mean that this right should be executed; another judge is unlikely to reach a vastly different result under the Divorce or Paternity Act. Nevertheless, it is a central consideration for many litigants who do not agree with the trial court’s decision the first time around.
The divorce and child custody attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. believe a client should understand this right and the process by which it occurs. In the typical situation, a party files a post-decree petition, such as a petition to modify custody. With it, he or she files a request for a change of judge.
If it is proper (i.e., has not been done before by that party), the trial court judge will grant it and appoint a panel of three judges. Each side has seven days to strike from the panel. The remaining judge is the judge who will hear the case, unless he or she refuses and declines the appointment. In this case, the panel fails, and other rules set out the process of obtaining another panel or judge.
When this judge accepts the case, and qualifies, he or she is the judge on the case, unless and until, at some indefinite point in the future, the other party moves for his or her one-time change of judge.
As a learning point, it is important to note that there are approximately 300 trial courts in Indiana. If one of these elected judges cannot accept the appointment, a senior judge may take the appointment (these are retired judges who help out from time to time).
This is an important consideration and should be carefully thought through by the litigant or his or her counsel. At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. we do not leave any consideration to chance.