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Impact of Step-Parents Behaviors as Perceived by the Children on Custody Modification

Stability and continuity of home life for children after divorce is a strong policy found in Indiana’s custody modification statutes and case law. Specifically, a parent who does not have physical custody can file a petition to modify such custody to him or her. However, the non-custodial parent must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances and it is in the children’s best interests to modify physical custody.

Typically, of the eight statutory factors1 a court may consider, general dislike or issues with a step-parent—standing alone—is not sufficient to meet this burden. In fact, psychological research and experiences of family law attorneys and judges is that there is some tension in these newer relationships and that is normal, particularly where the step-parent is more involved in daily parenting than the biological parent.

A key decision just handed down by the Indiana Court of Appeals2 focuses on when a step-parent crosses the line; it held that where the children were afraid of the step-parent and his (or her) behavior changed after divorce, this may be a sufficient basis to modify custody from biological mother who had custody and change custody to the biological father.

This case highlights the flexibility Indiana trial court judges have to consider all relevant evidence in deciding to modify a custody order to the non-custodial parents—and step-parent’s behaviors and fears of the children of the step-parent may rise to such a level. All factors impacting the children are considerations for counsel in assisting with a child custody modification case.

Ultimately, this case highlights where a custodial parent allows children to be in a negative situation of some extreme or duration with a step-parent, he or she may not be meeting the needs of the children and be subject to custody modification of physical (or legal) custody. More specifically, in the right situation a step-parent may impact a custodial parent’s ability to maintain custody if the issue is substantial and it impacts the children’s best interests and necessitates modification.

Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle divorce and custody modification cases throughout the greater Indianapolis area and the State of Indiana as well as appeals of final divorce and custody orders. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. This is for general information purposes, and is not intended to be specific legal advice or a solicitation for representation. It is an advertisement.


  1. Indiana Code Section 31-17-2-8.
  2. Robertson v. Robertson, 54A01-1509-DR01374 (July 28, 2016).
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Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., is a law firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve clients in six core practice areas: family lawappellate practicefirearms lawgeneral practicepersonal injury and criminal law.

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Ciyou & Dixon will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. In addition, this practice focus is augmented by the firm's other three core areas, namely appellate advocacy, civil practice, and firearms law. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counselSM.

Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. of Indianapolis, Indiana, offers legal services for Indianapolis, Zionsville, Noblesville, Carmel, Avon, Anderson, Danville, Greenwood, Brownsburg, Geist, Fortville, McCordsville, Muncie, Greenfield, Westfield, Fort Wayne, Fishers, Bloomington, Lafayette, Marion County, Hamilton County, Hendricks County, Allen County, Delaware County, Morgan County, Hendricks County, Boone County, Vigo County, Johnson County, Hancock County, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.