Under the general law for child custody in Indiana, there are some basic concepts that every potential Indiana child custody litigant (typically a parent) should understand. There are two overarching and controlling laws: Indiana child custody laws require that physical custody be determined in a child’s best interests, and such can only be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances.
The parent who does not obtain physical custody will receive parenting time under the Indiana child custody guidelines, which are formally known as the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, that are in place at the time of the divorce. As a general rule, these provide the non-custodial parent with parenting time that equals 98 overnights, which includes extended time in the summer, one night a week and alternating weekends. Holidays rotate between the parties based on odd and even calendar years. Infants and young children have less time with the non-custodial parent.
Subsequently, if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, and the parties may agree this has occurred, and so long as the court finds that it is in the best interests that physical (or legal) custody be modified, then custody modification can occur through a child custody agreement between the parties. A child custody agreement is an agreement reached between the parties and counsel, a mediated agreement, or an agreement the court orders after hearing some evidence, if necessary. Under Indiana custody laws, physical custody is best thought of as the parent with whom the child sleeps most nights. Legal custody is decision-making about major life issues, such as health, religion and education.
However, it is important to remember that under Indiana child custody guidelines, which is essentially an informal way to collectively refer to the statutory custody laws and parenting time rules and guidelines, and again, an Indiana child custody agreement must be approved by the court. The parties are generally free to reach agreements with other areas, such as property division, that are “bad deals.”
With children, a court will not approve any child custody agreement between the parties that is not in the child’s best interests. Child custody in Indiana is carefully watched over by Indiana trial court judges to ensure that children are not subject to a child custody agreement between the parties that is not in the child’s best interests.
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