The Bed Bugs Epidemic and What Parents Can Do About It In The Custody Context
In the last several years, an old enemy to the American (and individuals and families across the world throughout history) family has re-emerged on epidemic proportions: the lowly bedbug. Any issue that impacts any large segment of our society will ultimately present itself in the domestic arena. So too with bedbugs.
The issue Indiana domestic lawyers are now being called upon to address for their clients is what can be done if the other parent has bedbug infestation and does not remedy the problem. In other words is there a legal remedy, and what do litigants and lawyers ask trial courts to do to provide relief?
In a home with a bedbug infestation, this exposes the children to multiple bites, and the symptoms may include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from the scratching at the bites. Assuming this is the actual problem (as opposed to a number of other skin irritants children may face), the questions posed to lawyers vary, but have been stated as follows: “Is this a basis to deny the other parent parenting time or modify custody.”
A general answer is NO. However, any acute matter may be addressed by a request for an emergency hearing.
Notwithstanding this general rule, there is little decisional law even addressing more common nuisances that rise to infestation levels, such as fleas and bites.1 But this does not leave the parties, lawyers, and the courts without some remedy.
This is because part and parcel of the conditions of physical custody or parenting time, trial courts, acting in a child’s best interests, have the discretion to order the party in question (i.e., having the infestation) to have a pest control company address the problem.
If this is not done, then the party may be in contempt2 of the trial court’s order and/or it may employ a number of other tools under domestic statutes to protect the children, such as appointing a guardian ad litem to investigate the situation and advocate for the children themselves.3 This is not to say this has been done in Indiana. The point is Indiana trial courts have vast power to protect the children.
An analogous situation is found with relocation. While a trial court cannot prohibit a party from relocating under the constitutional right to travel, it can order the child to stay and change custody.4 Thus, while a trial court may not be able to mandate a litigant to hire a pest control company in the absence of a custody issue before it, where this is the case it can take steps to protect the children under its authority. Failure to do so may engage some of the potential remedies discussed in this blog post.
This is the magic of the hard-working Indiana trial court judge and trial courts opened to all citizens and its power to protect children.5
Harkening back to the hypothetical legal question posed above, a trial court could suspend a parents visitation with a bedbug infestation if the evidence demonstrates the bedbug problem, as it relates to the children, pose a risk to the child’s physical health or significantly impaired the child’s emotional development.6
Alternatively, a bedbug infestation may be or become (if the parent does not follow the court’s direction) a basis to modify physical custody if the custodial parent does not address the problem and the litigant can show this is a substantial change in circumstances since the last custody order and it is in the child’s best interests.7 This would likely have more weight if there were other neglectful practices presented in the evidence as well.
This is obviously not the ordinary situation. However, virtually any legal matter that impacts the children of a marriage or where paternity has been established has a remedy or multiple remedies. Nevertheless, not every problem has a legal remedy. The litmus test is how it impacts the children’s best interests, if at all.
This blog is written to provide general education information. As a part of this, if bedbugs are involved as an issue in your domestic case, another good thing to do is educate yourself about bedbugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a very helpful bedbug FAQs section on their website https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html.
We hope this blog post has helped you take the bite out of any bedbug issue you may face in a domestic case. This blog post is written by Bryan Ciyou and Jessica Keys, attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. Ciyou & Dixon handles cases throughout the State of Indiana.
- K.S., et al. v. Office of Family and Children, 750 N.E.2d 832 (Ind.Ct.App.2001) (flea bites coupled with other harms and parenting shortfalls of the mother led to a proper termination of her parental rights).
- Martin v. Martin, 771 N.E.2d 650 (Ind.Ct.App.2002).
- Ind.Code § 31-17-6-1.
- Baxendale v. Raich, 878 N.E.2d 1252 (Ind.2008).
- Open Courts Clause of Indiana Constitution, Art. 1, § 12.
- Ind.Code § 31-17-4-2.
- Ind.Code § 31-17-2-21.