A primer on Indiana child custody law

Indiana, like all other states, grants child custody based on a child’s best interests.

Whatever circumstances led to a couple's decision to end a marriage, if there are children, stress levels tend to increase because of concern about the children's well being and what the custody arrangement will look like.

Indiana, like other states, places the overarching focus in every aspect of child custody on what would be in the child's best interest. Usually, the divorcing couple will try to negotiate a marital settlement agreement covering custody and parenting time/visitation. However, the judge in the divorce case must approve the agreement based, of course, upon his or her determination as to whether it is in the child's best interest.

If the parents cannot come to negotiated agreement on matters of custody, the judge will make those determinations based on the child's best interest.

In a legal proceeding that includes child custody like a divorce case, issues of physical custody (which parent the child will primarily live with and be supervised by), visitation (parenting time with the child, usually by the parent with whom the child lives the least) and legal custody (who has the power to make major life decisions for the child) must be determined.

Physical custody can be joint (roughly a 50-50 split) or sole with one parent, with the other parent usually having parenting time. Legal custody signifies which parent has decision making authority. Joint legal custody vests the authority to make decisions regarding the children to both parents, resulting in their having to reach an agreement as to major life issues affecting the child, such as religion, health care and education. (Joint legal can be granted even if joint physical is not.)

Indiana law requires the judge to consider particular factors in determining whether joint legal custody is in the child's best interest, including whether the parents agree to this arrangement and whether they can work together to make decisions that promote the child's welfare.

Indiana custody law provides that there is no presumption that either parent would be a better custodial parent. The judge must consider all relevant factors pertaining to what would be in a child's best interests as to custody. The statutory factors are as follows:

  • Child's age and gender
  • Parental wishes
  • Child's wishes, especially if at least 14
  • Child's relationships with parents, siblings and other significant people
  • Child's adjustment to current home, school and community
  • Everyone's physical and mental health
  • Pattern of parental domestic violence
  • History of care by a "de facto custodian" or third party, in which case the law sets out special factors for consideration

In certain circumstances, the judge may order a custody investigation and report to assist in ascertaining the child's best interests.

Keywords: Indiana, child, divorce, negotiate, settlement, best interest, legal custody, child custody, family lawyer, child welfare