Indiana trial court judges can consider literally anything and everything relevant to a parent-child relationship to make a child custody decision that is in the child’s best interests. Sometimes a single factor—such as a severe drug abuse or incarceration—make the decision much easier for the judge to sort through the evidence, as it is apparent that a parent who is locked up cannot be the child’s custodian. However, in most cases, both parents have good qualities and faults in parenting. This blog explores the three most important factors that influence a judge’s child custody decision, so you can develop these for your case.
The first is the child’s wishes, particularly the older a child gets. While it is not determinative, a same-sex child may wish to live with that parent for certain reasons. Equally, the parent a child looks to as their primary caregiver is powerful evidence to get before a judge (there are several ways, including in-camera interviews and custody evaluations to present this evidence). This evidence reflects social and psychological bonding fundamental to proper childhood development. While a lax parent may appear to the preferred parent, a child advocate can usually see through this and determine who the child is bonded with and should live with for the best care and childhood. Getting this evidence before the court is a key to a successful custody case.
Secondly, and a somewhat related issue, is evidence of the desires of each parent. Obviously, both parents may seek the same custody in court. However, this concept goes much deeper and looks at the physical and mental health of parents. While not determinative, a parent who has significant mental health issues—particularly if they are historically unmanaged—is not likely the preferred custodial parent because they may make decisions for the child that are not appropriate or place the child in harm’s way. Given the statistics on mental illness (and drug addiction) in the US adult population, this may well win a case. On the other hand, victimizing a parent with a slight impairment is a sure way to lose a case. Thus, skilled counsel is necessary to develop the evidence of these key factors and get them into an admissible format for admission at trial.
The third piece of evidence is much more practical; this is the work schedule and obligation of a parent. A cross-country truck driver or parent with an erratic and irregular work schedule may not be the suitable parent for custody. Stability and a sense of continuity are a fundamental building block in child development. While such schedules may not be determinative, the key is to present the court with why your schedule is conducive to custody. Simultaneously, you must show the court how you will facilitate the non-custodial parent’s meaningful and significant contact with the children. Courts see it as a win-win to award custody to a parent who is going to go out of his or her way to ensure the children have quality time with the other (non-custodial) parent.
In most cases, these are the three most important pieces of evidence to a trial court in child custody litigation. Think about how they may apply to your case. Do they help you or hurt you? However, it is not enough to “know” this is the case, but also work with counsel to develop this information into admissible evidence to present in your custody case. This is how you move toward successful custody litigation. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle child custody litigation of all types throughout the state. It is written for general educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.