Indiana child custody laws seem very complex. Can you summarize them for me so that I can understand them in the context of my case?
There is a fair amount of commonality between all of the states’ laws as it relates to child custody matters in divorce and after divorce (called post-divorce). Specifically, all courts across the country focus on a child’s best interests. The same is true of paternity cases.
Indiana child custody laws are relatively straightforward, but complex in application as every case is factually “messy,” much like life itself. Nevertheless, as a litigant you can help your attorney by obtaining a basic understanding of what child custody laws in Indiana are so that your attorney can maximize time and focus on the complex application of your facts to custody laws.
Child custody laws in Indiana set forth the procedure to make an initial custody determination. Such an initial custody determination sets forth who will have physical custody when a divorce or legal separation is finalized, with the other parent having parenting time. In making the original determination in a divorce case, the court treats the sexes equally and judges are gender blind. Again, the trial court carefully focuses on what is in the child’s best interests. There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody, in summary, under Indiana child custody laws, is where the child will primarily sleep for the majority of nights.
The other parent (or non-custodial parent) under child custody laws in Indiana gets parenting time pursuant to the Indiana Parenting Time Guideline parenting time. This provides the non-custodial parent with parenting time totaling 98 overnights per year, 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. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines offer less time for infants and toddlers. However, the trend is for the non-custodial parent to seek more parenting time (more days per week), which with the right evidence, occurs more often than not.
Under Indiana child custody laws, the non-custodial parent will pay child support to the custodial parent based on the application of the parties’ gross weekly incomes to the Indiana Child Support Rules and Guidelines. Even when the parents make the same income and have joint custody/parenting time, there will be support owed to the custodial parent in most cases because of the controlled expenses inherent in the child support formula.
Controlled expenses are costs that are not typically duplicated even in (exact) joint physical custody situations, such as the purchase of a winter coat. There is a presumption that there is no negative support, (i.e., where the custodial parent pays the non-custodial parent support) pursuant to a decision of the Indiana Supreme Court, in a key interpretation of Indiana child custody laws.
The other type of custody is legal custody. Under child custody laws in Indiana, this addresses who has the right to make the major decisions for the child on health, education, welfare, and maintenance. For example, whether or not the child will be raised Catholic or Baptist. For the most part, the dynamics that brought the parents together do not make this a major area of contention. Joint legal custody is more appropriate and likely to be ordered in that the parties are less likely to fundamentally disagree. Legal custody may be granted solely in the custodial parent or jointly to both parents.
Once custody is decided initially, under Indiana child custody laws, an Indiana court may modify custody if the petitioning party shows in the evidence that there is a substantial change of circumstances such that modification of custody is in the children’s best interests. The substantial change requirement applies to physical and legal custody and also applies in paternity matters.
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