How does a judge determine the best child custody arrangement when each party in the divorce might have different views of what that means? Simply put, there are child custody guidelines judges work from when setting custody and visitation arrangements. Let’s look at some of the crucial parameters and consider how a typical child custody schedule for Indiana families is developed.
The Law on Deciding Custody and Visitation
Although every family situation is unique, the legal foundation for deciding custody and visitation in Indiana stems from a set of standard rules and guidelines that attempt to serve common interests for most families. These rules and guidelines, first and foremost, operate from a single baseline perspective: what is best for the child. From there, the judge will consider many factors – from basic needs provision to housing to schooling to childcare and more. Of course, the biggest and most crucial decision the judge will make involves child custody and visitation rights. (Visitation is also known as “parenting time” in Indiana).
Types of Custody Orders
There are several types of custody orders a judge can decree:
Legal custody designates which parent is authorized to make important decisions for the child. Legal custody can be granted to an individual parent (as sole custody) or to both parents (as joint custody).
With a sole custody decree, only one parent has the right and responsibility to make the important decisions for the child. These important decisions can include schooling, medical care, daycare, and more. While the non-custodial parent may be allowed to offer input into these crucial matters, the sole custodial parent has the final say.
Sole or Primary Physical Custody
Sole custody normally goes hand in hand with a sole or primary physical living arrangement. In a sole physical custody arrangement, the child lives with one parent full-time, although the other parent may have visitation rights. In a primary physical custody arrangement, the child will live with one parent most of the time. The court can weigh in on the amount of time the child spends with each parent in a primary physical custody living arrangement.
In a joint custody arrangement, both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding the child’s care and upbringing. Joint custody does not, however, necessarily mean each parent spends the same amount of time rearing the child. In other words, while each parent becomes jointly custodial, the child could still live primarily in one parent’s home.
Types of Visitation Orders
In most families, it is in the child’s best interest to be able to spend time with each parent. In fact, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines make it clear that its parameters are “based on the premise that it is usually in a child's best interest to have frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent.”
As ordered by the court, reasonable visitation orders often dictate which parent gets to spend time, including overnight time, with the child during the week, on weekends, during time off from school, and on holidays and vacations. In certain circumstances, visitation orders can extend to documenting visitation rights for grandparents as well.
Reasonable visitation orders can also decree when no contact with the child is appropriate – again, when this arrangement is in the best interest of the child and for the safety and wellbeing of all parties.
Ways to Get a Custody and Visitation Court Order
In considering how to create a visitation schedule, commentary from the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines makes it clear: “Parents should understand it is important for a child to experience consistent and ongoing parenting time. A child is entitled to rely on spending time with each parent in a predictable way...” It benefits everyone when both divorcing parents can cooperate and put their child first in an equitable Child Custody and Visitation Agreement.
In contested divorce proceedings, each party’s attorney will advocate for their client, proposing custody and visitation arrangements based on parental input. Ideally, everyone’s interests come together on mutually beneficial common ground. However, when the parties are far apart in their petitions to the court, the judge may appoint a lawyer specifically to represent the interests of the child in the custody case.
What’s more, while it is normally preferred that each parent spends time with the child, there are circumstances that call for supervised visitation and supervised contact. For example, this might be necessary when there has been a history of abuse in the household. In such cases, the manner of supervision will be included in the court order.
When circumstances change and a modification is sought to a current custody or parenting time order, a motion must be filed with the court. If the change is contested by the other parent, the court will schedule a hearing. Keep in mind, however, that a change in custody is unlikely unless it is clear the current best interests or safety of the child warrant.
What is the best child custody arrangement? One that serves the best interests of the child, regardless of the wishes of the divorcing parents. Here are some important points to keep in mind regarding child custody in Indiana:
- Indiana custody and parenting time guidelines operate from the perspective of what is best for the child
- A typical child custody schedule for Indiana families can include many factors
- There are several types of custody orders, including legal custody, sole custody, sole or primary physical custody, and joint custody
- Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines provide the judicial parameters for reasonable visitation orders
- In addition to setting forth parenting time schedules, reasonable visitation orders can also decree when supervised visitation is warranted; or even when no contact with the child is appropriate
- The judge may appoint a lawyer specifically to represent the interests of the child in a contested custody case
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., we have 25+ years of experience successfully advocating and resolving child custody and visitation cases for our clients. To learn more about how to protect your rights and the rights of your child during and after divorce, contact us today at (317) 951-9373. We’re here to help.
This blog post provides general educational material about legal custody. Being an educated legal consumer can help you make the most of the legal experience in meeting your legal objectives. This blog post is presented by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who practice throughout the State of Indiana. It is not a solicitation, nor is it intended to provide specific legal advice.