Because every divorce case with children is a little to a lot different from every other case, Indiana’s voters, appellate court’s and General Assembly give domestic trial court judges wide latitude (called “discretion”) to make child custody decisions. Indiana’s judges often agonize over the unfortunate situations they see, hear and must decide.
To help judges, there are four key legal presumptions or assumptions trial court judges follow that are important for you to know if you are involved, or will be involved, in a child custody dispute. The first—and by far the most important presumption or legal policy: every child custody decision a judge makes must be in the children’s best interests. The parents usually disagree on this topic and Indiana entrusts the decision to the judge to protect the children and literally protect the next generation of parents.
The second presumption is that the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines and Child Support Rules and Guidelines apply in all child-custody litigation (available on the Indiana Supreme Court’s website). Trial courts are given vast authority to deviate from these rules and guidelines in setting parenting time and child support. However, these rules and statutes are set forth by the General Assembly and the Indiana Supreme Court to ensure overall consistency and fairness from case to case and county to county.
The third assumption is that all custody decisions are gender-neutral. This means that either parent is presumed to be equally entitled to be a custodial parent for the children. This does away with extreme rules or presumptions from the past, which ranged from early English law that women and children were nearly equal to personal property of the husband to the “tender years” presumption which assumed a very young child or infant should be with his or her mother.
The fourth assumption is that stability is also of great importance to children. Therefore, once the custody decision is made in the initial divorce or paternity case, it should not be modified unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Where some parents have misunderstandings about the presumption relates to the betterment of their situation or becoming stable in his or her life. Thus, a drug addicted parent who is in a recovery stage does not necessarily present a substantial change as it relates to the children to modify custody. In other words, a change in his or her life, standing alone, is likely insufficient to demonstrate a substantial change to modify custody. This must be connected with the children to meet the evidentiary requirement.
We, the attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. hope this blog posts gives you insight into where trial courts may begin to consider a case before them. This will make you a better legal consumer and client. If so, this blog post has met its goal. This blog post is not intended to be specific legal advice or a solicitation for legal services. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys practice domestic relations throughout the State of Indiana.