Author: Julie Glade

An Overview of Temporary Guardianship In Indiana

When a minor child’s parent lives with and has legal responsibility over that child, the legal term is “custody,” but when anyone else has custody and legal responsibility over a child, the law calls it “guardianship.”

A guardian is someone other than a child’s parent who has legal custody of a child, the right to make all decisions regarding the child, and legal responsibility for the child. A temporary guardianship in the state of Indiana, however, makes someone a child’s guardian only for a specific reason and only for a specific length of time.

Temporary guardianship of a child in Indiana should not be confused with “testamentary” guardianship – these are two entirely different situations. A testamentary guardian is the person named in a parent’s will to be a child’s guardian if the parent or parents become deceased. A temporary guardian may be named either by the child’s parent or parents or by a court.

Temporary guardianship of a child may be established for several reasons in the state of Indiana:

Substitution: A temporary guardian’s appointment is appropriate if a parent will be unavailable to act as a parent for a short period of time. A temporary guardian’s appointment is appropriate for situations like a long hospital stay, for example, or a brief period of incarceration.

Incapacitation: A temporary guardian’s appointment is appropriate if a parent temporarily cannot care adequately for a child due to physical, mental, emotional, or economic incapacitation.

Emergency: A temporary guardian’s appointment is appropriate in emergency situations when a parent does not have the time required to name a long-term or permanent guardian. Most Indiana family lawyers understand that emergencies arise and are available to help on short notice.

HOW LONG DOES A TEMPORARY GUARDIANSHIP LAST IN INDIANA?

Temporary guardianship ends in Indiana when the reason the temporary guardianship was established ends – for example, at the end of a hospital stay or a period of incarceration. In many cases, temporary guardianships will be established by a court order, especially if the circumstances are urgent and the child or children need a guardian at once. The temporary guardian may then take responsibility for the child or children until a more long-term or permanent arrangement can be established.

How does a parent in Indiana go about arranging for a temporary guardianship? First, that parent should determine if establishing a temporary guardianship is genuinely necessary. Discussing your circumstances with an experienced family law attorney may be helpful.

If a parent shares custody with the child’s other parent, a temporary guardianship with another adult may not be needed. If a temporary guardian is genuinely needed, you must select as your child’s temporary guardian an adult whom you trust. A temporary guardian should probably be a friend of yours that your children already know well, someone they have already spent substantial time with.

WHAT SHOULD A PARENT DISCUSS WITH A TEMPORARY GUARDIAN?

Of course, when it comes to children, you can never assume anything. Directly ask the person you would like to name as a temporary guardian if he or she is available, willing, and up to the task of temporary guardianship.

If a person agrees to become your child’s or children’s temporary guardian, be sure to inform him or her regarding any medical concerns such as allergies. Make sure that both of you understand and agree on things like sleeping arrangements, the use of over-the-counter medications, and how to contact you if necessary in an emergency.

If you need a temporary guardian for your child or children for an extremely short amount of time – let’s say that you expect to be in the hospital for only three or four days – you can probably avoid having to name a temporary guardian.

You can simply let your child or children – especially older children – stay with and be supervised by someone you trust during your hospitalization. Even then, however, you should make absolutely certain that your friend can act as your child’s health care representative.

To name a friend as your child’s health care representative, you will need to complete a document or form – several are available online for downloading – that authorizes your friend to obtain necessary medical care for your child or children. The document should also include your own name, the children’s names and dates of birth, and your friend’s name.

You must sign the document, and another adult also must sign it as a witness. If possible, you should have the document notarized by an Indiana notary public. The document will then allow your friend to obtain any necessary medical care for your child or children.

You do not necessarily need to become the temporary guardian of a child who is not your own but who is residing temporarily in your home – for instance, if your own child’s friend is staying with your family for a few days or weeks. But if a child who is not your own is living in your home for any length of time, if you do not have temporary guardianship, it is imperative to have a health care document for the child.

WHAT IS AN INDIANA COURT’S TOP PRIORITY?

Whenever an Indiana legal proceeding involves a child, the court always makes the child’s best interests the leading priority. If you are asking an Indiana court to name a temporary guardian for your child or children, you should be able to show the court that naming a temporary guardian will benefit the child’s best interests.

You’ll certainly need the help that a Lake County family law attorney can provide. And everyone involved should understand fully that the temporary guardian of a child assumes all parental responsibilities and supervises the child’s education, housing, food, clothing, and medical care for the duration of the temporary guardianship.

All guardianship arrangements and agreements in Indiana typically require the assistance and guidance of a qualified family law attorney. If you need to name a temporary guardian for your own child or children in Indiana, obtain the assistance of an experienced Lake County family law attorney.

Even the simple naming of a temporary guardian may require some extensive legal paperwork. A good family law attorney can explain how the guardianship laws apply to your particular circumstances and resolve any mistakes or misunderstandings that may arise during the legal process.

Custodial Rights And The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines

Although Indiana family law safeguards the specific legal rights of both custodial and non-custodial parents in child custody disputes, and this state’s family law judges work conscientiously to protect those rights, the overriding and primary concern that guides the Indiana judges who hear child custody disputes is always going to be the best interests of the child.

If you are a non-custodial parent in the state of Indiana, even though you don’t live with your child, you have a legal right – with rare and precise exceptions – to spend time with your child. Provided there that is no evidence that you are an abusive or negligent parent, you have the right to parenting time under the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, which are designed to ensure that children spend a healthy amount of time with both parents.

However, Indiana judges are not obligated to adhere to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines when there is evidence of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other conditions that might place a child at risk. If the court determines that visitations may risk a child’s health or safety in any way, the court will probably order that those visitations must be supervised. The court may also order counseling or parenting classes, and unsupervised visits will not be allowed until the judge believes that the child is no longer at risk.

Sometimes, of course, problems arise regarding visitations. Kids may not always want to be with the non-custodial parent, or perhaps the custodial parent doesn’t want the visitations and tries to obstruct visits. Still, all parties must adhere to the court’s order regarding visitation. Either parent who wants the visitation order changed may seek a modification of the order by filing a motion with the help of an experienced Lake County family law attorney.

HOW MUCH AUTHORITY DOES A CUSTODIAL PARENT HAVE?

In Indiana law, physical custody refers to the parent that the child will physically reside with. In some cases, parents may share physical custody, or one parent will have “primary” physical custody and the other has visitation rights and “parenting time.” The parent who makes the major decisions for the child – educational, religious, and healthcare decisions – has “legal” custody, although parents may share joint legal custody, or one parent may have exclusive legal custody.

How much authority a custodial parent has will depend on several factors. For example, if a custodial parent wants to relocate out-of-state with the child or children, the first thing that parent should do is review the court’s custody order, which may or may not address the issue. An Indiana judge can order a custodial parent not remove a child from the court’s jurisdiction. An Indiana judge can also decide that a parent may retain custody only if that parent remains in Indiana.

UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS MAY A CUSTODIAL PARENT RELOCATE?

If relocation is not addressed in the custody order, a custodial parent who wants to move out-of-state (or more than one hundred miles from the current county of residence) with the child or children must file a “notice of intent to move” with the court and must have a copy sent to the non-custodial parent by registered or certified mail at least ninety days prior to the intended date for relocation. If the non-custodial parent has no objection to the relocation and does not file a counter-motion to oppose the move, the custodial parent is then free to move with the child or children.

However, if the non-custodial parent wants to block the move, he or she must file a counter-motion, and the court will schedule a hearing. Both sides will be allowed to state their cases and to offer evidence and testimony. The custodial parent must prove that the move is being made for a legitimate reason and not simply to get away from the non-custodial parent. If a judge agrees, the relocation may proceed.

If, however, a judge determines that the move is not in the child’s or children’s best interests, he or she will not agree to the relocation, and the child or children will remain in Indiana. In any dispute over child support, child custody, or visitation in this state, a court will consider the following factors (and any other pertinent factors) to determine what is in the child’s best interests:

  • any evidence of domestic violence by either parent
  • the physical and mental health of the child or children and both parents
  • the child’s age and gender
  • the parents’ wishes, and particularly if the child is age 14 or older, the child’s wishes
  • the child’s relationships and interactions with parents, siblings, and any others who may significantly impact the child’s best interests
  • the physical and mental health of the child or children and both parents
  • the child’s ability to adjust to his or her home, school, and community
  • any role that has been played by any de facto custodian, that is, any non-parent who has functioned in a parental role (such as a step-parent, grandparent, or aunt or uncle)

While they must ask permission to move their children out-of-state, custodial parents otherwise have a great deal of authority in Indiana. Indiana law specifies that a custodial parent may determine how a child is raised and may oversee the child’s education, healthcare, and religious training. However, in situations where the court has ordered shared or joint custody, those decisions about raising the child must be shared or joint decisions.

CAN A CUSTODIAL PARENT REFUSE TO ALLOW VISITATIONS?

In this state, if the non-custodial parent has failed to make child support payments, a custodial parent may not refuse to allow visitations. However, the custodial parent may file a contempt of court action with the help of a Lake County family law attorney. In the most egregious cases of non-payment, the court can impose jail time on a non-custodial parent for a failure to make child support payments.

If a custodial parent violates the custody order, what recourse does a non-custodial parent have? Of course, in the extreme case of a kidnapping or disappearance, you should call the police at once. In less severe circumstances, contact an experienced Indiana family law attorney.

If you believe the other parent is preparing to flee the state with your child or children, you may ask the court to require the other parent to post a bond, and you may also ask the court for an injunction and a temporary restraining order. Always, a court’s most important consideration in any custody dispute in this state will be the best interests of the child.

How To Calculate Child Support In The State Of Indiana

Exactly what does the law say in Indiana regarding child support? It’s a legal question that is far easier to ask than to answer. The following is a basic introduction to the laws and rules regarding child support in Indiana, but if you are involved in a child support dispute – or expect to be – you will need to obtain sound legal advice from an Indiana family law attorney regarding your individual situation. In any Indiana legal case involving a child, this state places that child’s best interests above all other considerations. Indiana’s children have the legal right to the financial support of both parents.

Child support is what a non-custodial parent pays to a custodial parent to help support their child or children. The state’s child support guidelines are designed to facilitate a child’s best interests, reduce the need for litigation, and reduce conflict between custodial and non-custodial parents. Child support amounts are determined using written legal rules, guidelines, and formulas that are part of the Indiana Rules of Court. In arriving at an appropriate amount for child support in any particular case, Indiana family law judges consider factors that include but are not limited to:

  • the assets, debts, and income of both parents
  • the child’s standard of living prior to the divorce or separation
  • the child’s mental, physical, healthcare, and educational requirements

HOW IS A CHILD SUPPORT AMOUNT DETERMINED IN THIS STATE?

The state’s child support guidelines consider a parent’s gross weekly income and then arrive at an adjusted weekly income. Gross income is income from all sources including salary or wages, rental incomes, royalties, dividend payments, and Social Security or veterans’ benefits. Additional income considerations include “imputed” income such as the use of a company car, free housing or meals, and other in-kind income that reduces the parent’s expenses. Judges may also consider “potential” income when the parent has no money coming in but is capable of earning it.

When an adjusted weekly income is arrived at for both parents, a “Child Support Obligation Worksheet” is used to arrive at a precise figure for the child support payments. A very few non-custodial parents pay no child support, because Indiana lawmakers and judges do not attribute any income to a parent with mental illness, a parent who is incarcerated, or a parent who cares for another child who is disabled.

The court has the discretion to differ with the calculated child support amount if the court believes that the amount is unjust in any particular case. Parents can use the online child support “calculators” to get a general idea of the amount that may be ordered, but the figures provided by online calculators may vary greatly from what the court actually determines. At any rate, an online calculator is no substitute for the legal advice that an experienced Lake County family law attorney can offer.

HOW ARE CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS ENFORCED IN INDIANA?

When a non-custodial parent in Indiana does not make court-ordered child support payments in a timely manner, delinquent payments must include a 1.5 percent interest fee.

Prosecutors in this state have a number of ways to pursue delinquent parents and collect overdue child support payments, including:

  • seizing the parent’s state or federal income tax returns, insurance settlements, lottery winnings, and
  • similar types of income
  • placing a lien on the parent’s personal vehicle
  • reporting a parent’s failure to pay child support to credit agencies
  • suspending any driver’s, professional, fishing, or hunting licenses the parent may have
  • having the parent’s passport revoked

WHAT OTHER EXPENSES CAN A PARENT BE ORDERED TO PAY?

The state of Indiana’s child support laws are crafted to ensure that children have their basic expenses paid for including food, shelter, clothes, and health insurance. When an Indiana family court determines that it is in a child’s best interests, a non-custodial parent may also be required to pay for educational needs, medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance, or funeral expenses should the child die. Non-custodial parents in Indiana typically pay child support until a child marries, dies, begins active military duty, turns 19 years old, or is no longer under the care of a parent, guardian, foster parent, or state agency.

Indiana courts can also require child support past the date of the child’s 19th birthday for a child with disabilities until further order of the court. At this time, Indiana family law courts can also order child support to continue until a child’s 21st birthday if a child support order was issued before July 1, 2012 and if a request for educational child support is filed before the child’s 19th birthday.

However, a court in this state can also order the termination of child support payments at any time after the child’s 18th birthday if the child has not attended an educational institution for four successive months and the child is capable of being self-supporting.

CAN CHILD SUPPORT ORDERS BE MODIFIED?

Child support matters in Indiana are seldom permanently resolved simply because a divorce has been finalized or a child support amount has been determined. When circumstances change and a child support order needs to be modified, a Lake County family law attorney can help you request and argue for that modification. Situations that might require a child support order to be modified include but are not limited to a change of jobs or the loss of a job; illness, injury, or disability; a new child with a new partner; or a move to another jurisdiction, state, or nation.

It is critically imperative for both parents to understand that a child support order for two or more children does not automatically modify itself in the state of Indiana when one child no longer requires support because he or she has become emancipated. The paying, non-custodial parent must take the active step of requesting a formal modification to decide a new payment amount for any remaining children.

Additionally, if you are obligated to make child support payments and you lose your job or otherwise become unable to make those payments, seek the counsel of an Indiana family law attorney at once. Child support orders cannot be modified without a request by one parent or the other. A parent who does not request a modification may become legally responsible for child support which that parent may no longer able to pay.

Can I Sue If My Child Gets Injured At School?

Kids do a lot more at school than sit at desks and listen to teachers. At recess time, younger children play dodgeball, kickball, and swing on the monkey bars. Older students participate in sports like football, which can be even riskier. More than fourteen million of our children suffer injuries every year in the United States. This figure is confirmed by the North Carolina Department of Insurance and is supported by a number of other research studies.

More than a quarter of these injuries to children – over 3.5 million injuries – happen on or adjacent to school properties. A separate study conducted by the Alpert Medical School at Brown University and published in the journal Pediatrics tells us that approximately 90,000 children are treated every year in emergency rooms across the country for injuries that are the result of violence at schools.

WHEN A CHILD IS INJURED AT SCHOOL, WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?

When a child is injured at school – and when that injury is something more serious than a skinned knee or a light bruise – it’s natural and right for parents to ask if they have any legal recourse. In some cases in Indiana, they do. The first step for the parent of an injured child is determining who is responsible and if the injury was the result of an unpreventable accident, a preventable accident caused by someone’s negligence, or an intentional act.

An intentional injury might be the result of bullying by another student or by someone employed at the school. If a student bullies and injures another child, the parents of the bully may in some cases face liability. If school authorities were aware of the bullying and did nothing to stop it, they may share that liability. If an employee of a school intentionally harms a child, the school district itself could potentially be liable for its failure to check thoroughly the backgrounds of prospective employees or its failure to provide proper supervision or training to employees.

And if your child’s injury was an accidental rather than an intentional injury, the school district may still face liability if the accident was caused by some failure or negligence on the part of the school district or the school’s employees. Schools are responsible for providing a generally and reasonably safe environment for children, and because school districts typically handle thousands of students every school day, some kind of negligence is inevitably sometimes going to happen.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED NEGLIGENCE BY A SCHOOL DISTRICT?

In general, if a student is injured because a school has failed to adhere to accepted standards of care in providing a reasonably safe environment for students, the school may be considered negligent. A school bus crash with injuries, for example, could be caused by the bus driver’s negligence, because the driver was inadequately trained, because the bus was maintained improperly or designed negligently, or because of another driver’s negligence.

Injuries on a school playground or on an athletic field could be the result of inadequate supervision, defective playground or athletic equipment, or poor maintenance of that equipment. A school district might also be liable for food poisoning if food is improperly stored or prepared. Injuries linked to natural or man-made disasters could be the result of inadequate planning by school authorities or a failure to carry out emergency procedures in a proper and timely manner. These, of course, are only a few examples of the many ways a child can be injured at a school.

If the school where a student is injured is a private school in Indiana, parents should seek legal advice from an experienced Lake County personal injury attorney. If parents can prove that their child was injured intentionally or as a result of negligence at a private school, those parents are entitled to complete reimbursement for the child’s medical expenses and all related damages. However, if the school where a student is injured is an Indiana public school, the legal situation is somewhat more complicated.

WHY ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS IMMUNE FROM SOME KINDS OF LAWSUITS?

A public school district is a governmental entity, and governmental entities usually have legal immunity from negligence lawsuits. In many cases, schools and their employees cannot be held liable for a student’s injuries, even when the negligence is undeniable. A school district’s immunity from negligence lawsuits may seem unfair, especially when a child has been harmed, but think of it this way. Without legal immunity, athletic programs, chemistry labs, and shop class would be too risky for the schools to offer.

And if a child is injured at school, immunity applies only to the school district and school district employees. Indiana public schools are not immune to personal injury lawsuits that are the result of the negligence of a school’s volunteers, contractors, and any other non-employees. Indiana public schools, in fact, have a legal obligation to offer reasonable protection to their students from any negligent actions that may be committed on a school’s premises by non-employees.

Moreover, the legal immunity enjoyed by governmental agencies and entities, including Indiana school districts, is limited in this state. The law in Indiana specifically addresses negligence claims against public employees and governmental entities, and Indiana law, in fact, specifies the types of incidents where immunity can be waived and parents may proceed with a personal injury claim. Product liability claims can be filed against the manufacturers of defective or dangerous playground and athletic equipment, lab equipment, school buses, and bus parts.

Under Indiana law, the total liability of governmental entities and employees for any single negligence claim cannot exceed $700,000 for a personal injury or $5 million for a wrongful death. Indiana school districts have an ethical and legal obligation to maintain classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, athletic fields, and school buses for safety, and to check comprehensively and completely the backgrounds of teachers and other prospective employees before hiring.

If a child is injured intentionally or through an act of negligence at a public school in Indiana, parents should immediately seek the counsel of an experienced Lake County personal injury attorney to determine whether or not immunity applies or if liability can be assigned to a party other than the school district. Indiana’s children are precious, and they deserve to be our most important priority.

The Differences Between Legal Separation Vs. Divorce In Indiana

Before ending a marriage in Indiana, couples may want to look at the option of legal separation. Divorce and legal separation are two distinct legal alternatives for spouses in Indiana who want to end their marriages. The two procedures accomplish two different and separate goals. A divorce legally dissolves a marriage. A legal separation lets spouses live separately while deciding to work on the marriage or to dissolve it. Couples who legally separate remain married, but couples who divorce do not, and they are for all intents and purposes “single” once again.

In the state of Indiana, divorce and legal separation have important similarities, but they also have important differences. While a legal separation is not a legal divorce, for many married couples in Indiana, it is an important practical alternative. Indiana law prohibits a legal separation from lasting for more than a year, although a legally separated spouse does not have to wait a for a year to file a divorce petition.

After a year, a legally separated couple must either file for a divorce or declare that they will remain married. The courts in Indiana will sign off on a legal separation if a judge determines that the couple cannot currently live together but that eventually they may be able to reconcile. And before any divorce in Indiana can be finalized, a judge must determine that the marriage has suffered an “irretrievable” breakdown.

WHAT CAN A LEGAL SEPARATION ACHIEVE?

Legal separation gives a married couple the opportunity to “cool off” before either partner makes a final decision to divorce. No-fault divorce is the law in this state, so a spouse does not have to prove that the other spouse did anything wrong in order to be granted a divorce. A legal separation is not required prior to an Indiana divorce, although a legal separation may provide the divorce court with the evidence it needs of a marriage’s “irretrievable breakdown.”

During a legal separation, a judge may issue temporary orders for child support and custody, spousal support (or “alimony”), and counseling. Also in a legal separation, one spouse can still be a beneficiary of the other’s life insurance. A legally separated spouse may or may not be able to benefit from the other spouse’s health insurance, so before filing for separation, check your health plan; some plans cover legally separated spouses and others do not. After a divorce, however, the parties go their separate ways. For example, a spouse cannot be held accountable for the other spouse’s personal debts after a divorce is finalized.

WHAT IF YOUR FAITH FORBIDS DIVORCE?

In the state of Indiana, a legally separated couple is still a legally married couple. Some couples may choose legal separation instead of divorce in order to satisfy a religious belief. When a faith community forbids divorce, legal separation allows a couple to maintain their religious beliefs while nevertheless, in effect, ending the relationship. Others treat legal separation as the equivalent of a trial divorce – to try living apart to “see how it goes” before choosing to end the marriage permanently.

When the marriage partners agree that a divorce is in fact the goal of their legal separation, it’s the right time to start the daunting task of evaluating and dividing marital property and assets. These issues should be resolved as early as possible, and especially if substantial assets and a number of properties are involved. A legal separation agreement, correctly drafted, settles any spousal support or child support disputes prior to a divorce; resolves tax issues, debts, and other financial matters; and addresses access to credit cards, bank accounts, lines of credit, and equities.

While a legal separation in the state of Indiana is not a formal divorce, is not an annulment either. It is a legal agreement between marriage partners to live separately, although simply living apart does not by itself establish a “legal” separation. A couple must file for formal legal separation status to obtain the benefits of legal separation. In northwest Indiana, obtain the legal help you’ll need from an experienced Lake County family law attorney.

CAN A JUDGE ORDER COUNSELING DURING A LEGAL SEPARATION?

During the period of legal separation, the court may compel the separated spouses to seek counseling for themselves or for their child or children if either party makes a motion for counseling in an effort to improve the marriage; if either spouse, one of the children, or a court-appointed special counsel makes a motion for counseling for the child; or the court may order counseling if a judge believes that counseling will be helpful. The court may not require “joint” counseling of the spouses unless both consent or if there is evidence that one spouse has demonstrated a pattern of domestic violence.

A divorce in Indiana is legally called a “dissolution of marriage.” To file for either a divorce or a legal separation, a least one partner must be a resident of Indiana or stationed at a U.S. military installation in the state of Indiana for at least six months immediately preceding the filing. At the time of filing, at least one party must be a resident of the county or stationed at a U.S. military installation within the county where the petition is filed for at least three months immediately preceding the filing.

Before you arrive at any final decision about ending your marriage, it can’t hurt to seek some advice. If you have a best friend whom you discuss such things with, talk to that person. If you’re a member of a faith community, it probably provides counseling that’s right for you. Plenty of counseling resources are available in the Lake County area in both the public and private sectors.

Legal separation is never final; eventually, a married couple either reunites or moves toward divorce, but a legal separation in Indiana offers you and your spouse some breathing space and some time to assess your marital situation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about fourteen percent of the married couples who file for legal separation eventually resolve their differences and remain in the marriage. An experienced Lake County family law attorney can explain more about the legal separation process.

Is One Senator Blocking Foster Care Reform?

As 2016 finally and mercifully comes to an end, the 114th Congress, which had been for all practical purposes inactive prior to the November elections, finally started passing some important measures. A billion dollars to combat the opioid addiction epidemic won the approval of both parties. Cancer research and the National Institutes of Health received some badly-needed federal funds, and coal miners obtained some additional healthcare coverage. One group, however, was “left behind” once again: children who are at risk. Senators didn’t even get to vote on a proposal aimed at a complete reform of the nation’s foster care system.

Foster care in the United States formally began in 1853 when Charles Loring Brace, a pastor and the director of the New York Children’s Aid Society, was concerned about the disturbing number of immigrant children sleeping in the streets of New York City. He advertised for and found families who were willing to provide homes for these children. As a result of Brace’s work, state governments became involved in foster home placements and helping foster parents with their expenses.

Today, according to the New York-based nonprofit group Children’s Rights, more than 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States. On average, kids remain in the system for two years, and but seven percent remain in foster care for five years or longer. In 2014, more than 22,000 new adults “aged out” of foster care without permanent families – increasing their chances of homelessness, unemployment, addiction, or incarceration as adults.

WHY WAS FOSTER CARE REFORM BLOCKED IN THE SENATE?

A comprehensive reform bill, the Families First Prevention Services Act, moved easily through the House of Representatives, where it passed unanimously. However, the Senate was allowed no opportunity to vote on the proposal. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina opposed the legislation. Attempts to attach the bill to other pieces of legislation were rejected at Senator Burr’s request by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

At the last minute, Senator Burr acted to kill the foster care reforms because of opposition from the Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) of North Carolina. The legislative proposal is designed to help keep families together and keep children from ending up in foster homes, which would mean fewer children in the group homes operated by BCH, which receives $4,500 per month per child for each child in their care.

With operations in every North Carolina county, BCH holds $45 million in assets, according to tax filings. A 2013 tax return shows that BCH President Michael Blackwell was paid about $230,000 that year in salary and other compensation. Reducing the number of children in foster care isn’t the only provision of the Families First Prevention Services Act. The proposal would require more training and scrutiny of prospective group home parents. After one BCH “house mom” was charged with smoking pot with foster kids and sleeping with a teenage boy in her care in 2015, BCH officials said, “the safety of the children we serve is always our first priority.”

WHO CAN BECOME A FOSTER PARENT?

Those who are seeking to become foster parents in the state of Indiana are carefully scrutinized and must attend pre-service training sessions. Indiana foster parents must be at least 21 years old and licensed by the Department of Child Services. An additional fifteen hours of training is required each year to retain the license. The requirements for foster parent licensure in Indiana include:

• Passing a criminal history, fingerprinting, and a background check
• Owning or renting a home that meets basic physical safety standards
• Financial stability
• Medical statements from a doctor for all household members
• Successful completion of training requirements including first aid and CPR training
• Home visits from a Department of Child Services Regional Licensing Specialist
• Completing all necessary forms and documents
• Personal references

Prospective foster parents in this state can have many of their questions answered by an experienced Indiana family law attorney. When a biological parent is no longer in a child’s life, those who are interested in the guardianship or adoption of a minor child – whether they are step-parents, grandparents, or foster parents – will need a family lawyer’s advice and services. Most of the people seeking to become guardians or adoptive parents will face few if any legal barriers in Indiana, but every situation is different. In most cases, an Indiana family law attorney can handle a guardianship or adoption smoothly and expeditiously.

From a political angle, what is so exceptional about Senator Burr’s opposition to the Families First Prevention Services Act is that it’s directed against the most senior and most powerful senator in his own party, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a forty-year veteran of the Senate. Senator Hatch said that he still hoped to move the bill through the Senate before the end of 2016. “I can’t imagine anybody voting against it,” Hatch told the Huffington Post.

Currently, federal funding is available for group homes and other foster care settings only after children are removed from their homes – but not for preventing abuse or neglect in the first place. The Family First Prevention Services Act would let the states use federal foster care funds for mental health services, in-home parenting programs, and substance abuse treatment programs for parents struggling with addiction.

WHAT STATES HAVE THE MOST CHILDREN ENTERING FOSTER CARE?

Supporters of the legislation point to substance abuse as a leading reason for the rising numbers of children entering the foster care system. The Associated Press recently reported that the number of children in foster care has been climbing steadily in recent years and that five states account for nearly two-thirds of the recent increase. Indiana is one of those five states. What Indiana, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota have in common is rising numbers of parents involved with substance abuse.

In a lengthy defense of his position posted to the Independent Journal Review website, Senator Burr insists that the Families First Prevention Services Act “could have serious unintended consequences for foster children across the country, especially when it comes to keeping brothers and sisters together,” and that the proposal may “inflict even more harm on children who have already experienced a tragic loss.”

Where does the foster care system in the United States go from here? If the numbers of children going into the system are rising while the available funds are declining, foster care is hurtling toward a crisis. Will the new Congress act to avert a foster care crisis? As 2017 begins, there’s simply no way to know, but foster parents and everyone who works with children at risk will be watching the new Congress closely.

Babies With Three Parents: They’re Already Here

The British House of Commons in 2015 legalized a breakthrough fertility procedure aimed at keeping genetically-transmitted diseases from passing to future generations by creating children from the genetic material of three parents rather than two. In April of this year, the first three-parent child created by the new procedure – a healthy boy – was born, but not in Great Britain. The child was born in Mexico to a Jordanian couple with the help of U.S. doctors.

The boy’s mother carries genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that is passed to children through the mitochondrial DNA inherited from the mother. The Jordanian couple contacted Dr. John Zhang and his colleagues in New York City at the New Hope Fertility Center. The procedure has not been approved in the United States – and Great Britain is the only nation that has legalized it formally – but Dr. Zhang met the prospective parents in Mexico, where he says “there are no rules.” He is zealous about his work and clients. “To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” Dr. Zhang says.

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The science is complicated and controversial. Unhealthy DNA is removed from a human egg cell, replaced with healthy DNA from a second egg cell, and then fertilized with a third parent’s sperm. But what may become even more complicated and controversial over time are the legal questions that will accompany a child with three parents – especially if there is a divorce or a child custody dispute. In Indiana, anyone involved in a contested divorce with children or any child custody dispute should discuss the case first with an experienced Lake County family law attorney. Family law is already complicated, even for children who have “only” two parents.

EXACTLY WHAT IS THIS NEW FERTILITY PROCEDURE?

The new baby’s parents have previously lost two children to Leigh syndrome. The mother carries the genes for Leigh syndrome in her mitochondrial DNA, inside the cell’s mitochondria. While nuclear DNA is inherited from both the father and mother, mitochondrial DNA comes only from the mother. Dr. Zhang and his team used mitochondria from an egg cell taken from a third-party anonymous donor. Most of a person’s twenty thousand or so genes are in the cell’s nucleus. The mitochondria carry only thirty-seven genes. The embryo that was created by Dr. Zhang’s team had the nuclear DNA of its parents and the mitochondrial DNA of the anonymous donor.

The baby boy born in April is not the first child created from three parents, but he is the first using Dr. Zhang’s technique and the first in many years. In the 1990s, seventeen three-parent children were born using a technique called ooplasmic transfer developed by Dr. Jacques Cohen at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas in New Jersey. But two of the fetuses lacked an X chromosome, and one of the mothers miscarried. In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2001 asked fertility clinics in the United States to stop using the ooplasmic transfer method, and they have.

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Although the fertility procedure performed in Mexico by John Zhang and his team is legal now in Great Britain, apparently no one there has yet attempted it. Embryologists who want to conduct the procedure in Great Britain must apply for a license and adhere to strict legal and ethical guidelines. Observers believe that the birth in Mexico will now generate renewed interest in the technique in scientific and medical communities around the world. In other words, we can now expect plenty of three-parent children in the future. In the United States, the FDA – which so far has made no determination – would have to approve the procedure.

DO ANY STATE LAWS PROVIDE FOR CHILDREN WITH THREE PARENTS?

If the three-parent procedure is approved by the FDA and eventually becomes available to prospective parents in the United States, it will significantly affect divorce cases and child custody disputes in a variety of ways that no one can now foresee. In the state of California, the law already officially “allows” a child to have more than two legal parents as a result of a proposal that became California law in 2013. That statute was adopted by the state’s lawmakers in response to the increasingly common living arrangement where a same-sex couple is raising a child after one partner had the child with a biological parent of the other sex.

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At first glance, the California law is clear and simple: “In cases where a child has more than two parents, the court shall allocate custody and visitation among the parents based on the best interest of the child.” This law – and similar legislation under consideration in a number of other states – simply allows the courts to recognize legally that more than two people may assert parental rights. Nevertheless, three-parent children and the laws that recognize three legal parents will inevitably complicate even further something that is already quite complex – the decisions courts make regarding child custody and child support during and after a divorce.

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER CONCERNS ABOUT GENETIC RESEARCH?

All of us can understand the apprehension of prospective parents who fear passing on a genetic abnormality to their children. Nevertheless, fears also remain about the unanticipated consequences of genetic research. If human beings can be created disease-free, can they also eventually be “customized” genetically? Of course, the ethical controversies will continue. Science-fiction writers and conspiracy theorists will offer frightening scenarios about genetic control and manipulation. But the courts are where real parents, lawyers, and judges will settle the hard legal questions that will emerge regarding three-parent children and child custody.

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For a parent, nothing can generate more concern than a child custody battle. Every custody case – and every child – is unique. Any parent divorcing in Indiana should have a Lake County family law attorney provide sound legal advice and fight for the best possible legal and physical child custody agreement for you and your child or children. In the United States, children with three biological parents probably will not be a legal concern for several more years, but lawmakers and judges should prepare now for three-way custody battles and the other kinds of custody disputes that are sure to arise when three people have legal claims and parental rights to a single child.

Indiana Ranks #5 in The Nation For Child Abuse

The number of children who were reportedly abused or neglected for the first time in Indiana in 2015 was higher in only four other states. A report titled “Kids Count” offers that disturbing finding along with a number of other unsettling statistics about Indiana’s children. More than thirteen percent of the Indiana children surveyed, for example, said they are living with a parent who has a drug or alcohol problem. The national average is ten percent. Listed here are other “highlights” of the report:

  • In Indiana in 2014, a verified case of abuse or neglect was reported every twenty minutes.
  • For every thousand Indiana children, sixteen were abuse or neglect victims.
  • Nearly half of the reportedly abused or neglected children were age five or younger.
  • In state fiscal year 2013, 14 Indiana children died due to abuse and 35 died of neglect.
  • In 2013, more than one in five maltreated Indiana children had a disability.

Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol and who in turn abuse their children – or at least put them in danger – are the leading cause of child abuse in this state, according to most authorities. Many officials point to the rise of prescription drug abuse and a new heroin epidemic. Rachel Tobin-Smith, executive director of SCAN Inc., says, “It’s the drugs. The drugs are making children vulnerable.”

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“There has definitely been an increase in the number of cases that have drug involvement,” according to James B. Wide, a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Child Services. “However, we cannot just [attribute] that increase to heroin, as it really depends on geography. Some areas of the state have a bigger issue with cocaine, some meth, some prescription, and some heroin.”

HOW DO DRUGS CONTRIBUTE TO CHILD ABUSE IN INDIANA?

Heroin now comes cheap, and it is not hard to find. SCAN (it stands for Stop Child Abuse and Neglect) handled more than 800 cases last year involving families where substance abuse is an issue. Over and over again, Ms. Tobin-Smith and the SCAN staff found parents using heroin and forgetting to change diapers or even to bathe their children. “You might spend all your money on drugs,” Ms. Tobin-Smith told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. “And then there is no money for food or clothing.”

Statewide in 2015, more than 16,000 allegations of child abuse or neglect were reported to authorities. In response, Governor Mike Pence authorized the state Department of Child Services to hire 113 extra case workers for this year. All of those positions have now been filled. Still, Ms. Tobin-Smith insists that there is always a need for more social workers. “We can’t find enough people qualified to do the job.” she said.

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And while heroin is the “new” drug people are abusing – at least, new to Indiana in the 21st century – it is far from being the only drug linked to child abuse. Several years ago the state was aggressively fighting a methamphetamine epidemic. Ms. Tobin-Smith says it will take money for drug treatment and other programs to get people the help they need, but the state has done this before. “We’re beginning to wrap our heads around it,” she says.

While child abuse and neglect are routinely linked to drug and alcohol abuse, financial hardship is another top risk factor. If a child’s parent or caregiver is receiving public assistance, is unemployed, or is deeply in debt, child abuse or neglect is statistically more likely, and the link between public assistance and child abuse or neglect is disturbingly higher in Indiana than the national average. In fact, financial hardship or unemployment were factors in 98 percent of the maltreatment deaths of children in Indiana in 2014.

WHAT IS THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF CHILD ABUSE?

Child abuse will stop only when everyone understands precisely what child abuse is and how to respond to it. However, child abuse takes many forms, including sexual abuse and neglect, so a comprehensive definition is quite lengthy. The law in Indiana defines child abuse as what happens when “the child’s physical or mental health is seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian.”

The intentional infliction of physical injury is the definition of physical abuse. Unexplained bruises, welts, burns, lumps, fractures, cuts or abrasions, and dental injuries may be indicators of physical abuse. Sexual abuse is defined as an adult using a child for sexual gratification or permitting another person to do so. Venereal disease, pregnancy, bruises around the genitalia or rectum, blood on the underwear, and recurrent urinary tract infections may be indicators of sexual abuse.

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Child neglect is defined as the continuing failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothes, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision. Emotional abuse may be defined as the attitude or actions of a caretaker which are detrimental to a child’s sound and healthy personality development. Children who are unwashed, wearing torn or dirty clothes, underweight, violent, or withdrawn may be the victims of neglect or emotional abuse. Eating disorders, sleep disorders, and low self-esteem – including suicide attempts – are also indicators of neglect or emotional abuse.

WHAT DOES INDIANA LAW REQUIRE?

The law in Indiana requires adults with knowledge of suspected child abuse or neglect to report it. Failure to report when you possess that knowledge is a Class B misdemeanor. If the report is made in good faith, you will remain anonymous. Suspected child abuse or neglect can be reported to the Indiana Child Protective Services hotline, 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, at 1-800-800-5556.

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If your own child is at risk from a spouse, an ex-spouse, or someone you cohabited with or dated, you need the advice and insights of an experienced Indiana family law attorney – immediately. You may be looking at a restraining order, filing for divorce, or a criminal matter that should involve the police. An experienced Indiana family law attorney will be able to offer the advice you and your child need in your own unique circumstances.

Everyone wants to stop child abuse, even though eliminating it seems like an impossible task. Child abuse can never be tolerated, and the rising number of child abuse reports in Indiana is a grave concern. Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies, the courts, educators, and community organizations need to focus now on reducing child abuse in Indiana before the numbers rise even higher.

FAQS About Child Custody in Indiana

Nothing is more important than your child. When a child custody dispute comes before the courts in Indiana, the court’s decision will reflect what it believes are the “best interests” of the child. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions – and answers – regarding child custody in Indiana. Of course, anyone who expects to be involved in a contested divorce or a custody dispute in this state should obtain the advice and services of an experienced Indiana family law attorney.

Q: What is the difference between legal custody and “physical” custody?

A: Under Indiana law, physical custody refers to where the child or children physically reside. In many cases, divorced parents share physical custody or one parent has “primary” physical custody and the other parent has “parenting time” or visitation. The parent who makes major decisions regarding the child’s life – such as educational, religious, and healthcare decisions – has “legal” custody, although parents can share joint legal custody or one parent may have exclusive legal custody.

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Q: How does an Indiana judge decide which parent should have physical custody?

A: Going into a child custody dispute in the state of Indiana, neither parent enjoys a “presumption” that one or the other is naturally the better parent simply by virtue of his or her gender. The court’s duty is to consider the best interests of the child in making a custody determination. Indiana law requires judges to use this list of eight items to help them decide what is in a child’s best interests:

  1. the gender and age of the child
  2. the child’s wishes (more consideration is given to children at least 14 years old)
  3. the parents’ wishes
  4. the interactions and relationships of the child with parents and siblings
  5. the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
  6. the physical and mental health of everyone involved
  7. evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent
  8. evidence that the child has been cared for by a “de facto custodian” (who has provided care but has no legal rights to the child)

Q: Will the child’s own wishes regarding custody influence the court?

A: When parents get a divorce in the state of Indiana, until a child reaches the age of 18, the court makes the determination regarding custody. However, when a child is 14 or older, consideration will be given by the court to the child’s wishes.

Q: At what point in the process is child custody decided?

A: Temporary custody may be decided as soon as the parents’ separation is in effect. The permanent custody arrangement is a part of an Indiana court’s final Decree of Dissolution. Indiana courts usually accept both temporary and final custody arrangements when both parents agree. When they don’t, the court may issue a temporary order, governing the provisional period, that will remain in effect through the divorce process until the court enters its final divorce decree.

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Q: If both parents share custody, how is child support arranged?

A: If the parents share custody and their incomes are similar, they may be able to avoid a separate child support obligation. When parents can reach their own agreement, Indiana courts will usually “sign off” on that agreement provided it is in the child’s best interests. In a disputed divorce, one parent may be ordered to pay child support based on an income formula that considers each parent’s income and the amount of parenting time each parent exercises.

Q: Do divorcing parents need a parenting plan?

A: It’s a good idea. A parenting plan spells out the amount of parenting time or visitation that divorced parents will have with their children. Divorcing parents should always attempt to work together on a plan that fits their schedules and allows the child to have positive relationships with both parents. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, an Indiana court will impose its own decision about child custody and visitation as a part of the final Decree of Dissolution.

Q: Can a custodial parent refuse to allow visits if child support payments are not made?

A: No, not in the state of Indiana. Visitation may not be denied on the basis of failure to pay child support. However, if the non-custodial parent fails to meet the child support obligation, the spouse may file a contempt of court action with the help of an Indiana family law attorney. In the most egregious cases, the court can order jail time for a parent’s failure to make child support payments.

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Q: Can a child custody order be changed at a later date?

A: Yes, if there’s a good reason. After custody and visitation questions have initially been resolved, either by mutual parental agreement or by the court, specific procedures must be followed to change or “modify” the arrangement. A parent who asks the court for a child custody modification must show that circumstances have changed substantially enough to require the modification. If a child custody modification is contested, a hearing will be scheduled, and a parent will need the services of an experienced family lawyer.

Q: Do grandparents have any legal custody and visitation rights in Indiana?

A: The U.S. Supreme Court – in the case Troxel v. Granville – found that grandparents do not enjoy an absolute legal right to visit their grandchildren over the objections of parents. Because the courts put a parent’s legal rights first, acquiring grandparental visitation rights can be quite challenging in some cases. However, there are instances where grandparents may have limited visitation time approved by the courts. Grandparents seeking visitation rights should speak with a good family lawyer about their specific situation.

Q: If a parent is considering or expecting divorce, what can that parent do now to get a good custody agreement?

A: Actively work to maintain your relationship with your child and your involvement in your child’s life. Spend all of the time that you can with your child to make your place in the child’s life clear and obvious to the court.

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Q: What else should a parent know and do before a child custody hearing?

A: The court will investigate your role in your child’s life, your own physical and mental health and stability, and the contribution you make to your child’s upbringing. A child custody dispute can be the most acrimonious part of a divorce. You’ll need to guard your emotions and prove to the court that your child’s best interests are best served by assigning the child’s custody to you.

How Guardianships Work in The State of Indiana

A legal guardian has the legal authority and duty to care for another person, called a “ward.” Legal guardians are usually found in one of three situations: guardianship of an elderly person incapacitated by infirmity or old age; guardianship of a developmentally disabled adult; and the guardianship of a minor child. This discussion is primarily about how a guardianship for a minor child works the state of Indiana. A child might need a court-appointed guardian for reasons such as but not limited to:

  • one or both biological parents have a record of child abuse or domestic violence
  • one or both biological parents are serving a jail or prison sentence
  • one or both biological parents are in drug or alcohol rehabilitation
  • one or both biological parents are deployed overseas in the military
  • one or both biological parents suffer from a mental or physical disability that impairs their ability to care for a child

Indiana family law courts always make a child’s best interests the top priority. If you are petitioning to become a child’s legal guardian, you should be able to show the court that your guardianship will serve the child’s best interests. You’ll probably need the help of an experienced Indiana family law attorney. Typically, the guardian of a child assumes parental responsibilities and sees to a child’s personal needs including education, housing, food, clothing, and medical care.

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A legal guardian in Indiana may also be the person who manages a child’s financial assets, although sometimes another person – a “guardian of the estate” – will be named for this purpose. Sometimes, parents need to set up a guardianship of the estate for their own child, even if the child lives with them. When substantial amounts of money or property are given to a minor child, attorneys and financial institutions may sometimes be hesitant to hand the assets to the parents. A guardianship of the estate protects a financial institution from any legal liability and makes the parents responsible for showing a court how such assets are used or invested.

HOW DOES GUARDIANSHIP DIFFER FROM ADOPTION?

A guardianship legalizes a relationship between a responsible adult and a child who is not the adult’s biological offspring. However, unlike an adoption, guardianship does not end or sever the relationship between the child and the birth parents. Even if a child resides with a guardian, the law requires biological parents to provide financial support. If a parent dies without a will, a child has automatic legal inheritance rights, and a guardian can help manage any inheritance.

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The distinction between guardianship and adoption is that adoption formally and permanently changes legal rights and relationships. The adults who adopt a minor child actually become the child’s legal parents and assume all of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. Any living biological parent waives all parental rights and obligations, including the child support obligation, at the time of the adoption. Sometimes a guardian may step down with the court’s permission, and a judge will name a replacement if needed. A guardianship typically remains in effect until:

  • The child reaches age 18.
  • The child dies.
  • A court decides the guardianship is no longer needed.
  • If a guardianship ad litem was set up to manage the child’s finances, the guardianship ad litem concludes when the assets are gone.

WHAT IS A GUARDIAN AD LITEM?

A guardian ad litem is someone named by the court to represent the interests of a minor in a legal proceeding that involves the child’s interests. (Courts may also name a guardian ad litem for an incapacitated elderly or developmentally disabled adult.) In this instance, “representing the child’s interests” does not mean legal representation in the sense of acting as an attorney. Indiana judges may name a guardian ad litem in divorce or in paternity cases, particularly when custody is disputed, or accusations are made regarding the health and safety of the child.

In the state of Indiana, a guardian ad litem receives specialized training and is asked to investigate the child’s circumstances and living conditions and eventually submit his or her findings to the court along with a custody recommendation. A guardian ad litem may be a relative, a lawyer, or even a parent. If a guardian ad litem is not a lawyer, the minor or adult may also be represented by a lawyer.

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SHOULD YOU SEEK LEGAL GUARDIANSHIP?

You do not necessarily need to become the legal guardian of a child who is not your own but who resides in your home, especially if the child is staying only a few weeks or months – for example, if your own child’s friend is living with your family over the holidays or summer vacation. But if a child who is not your own is living in your home for a longer duration, without legal guardianship you may have difficulty enrolling the child in school, obtaining medical care, and acquiring benefits for the child. And you’ll have no legal standing if the child’s parents want the child returned – even if you believe the parents are unfit in some way.

Sometimes, adults may have children who are not their own living in their home, but those adults do not want to become legal guardians. They may expect that the child’s legal/biological parents will not agree to a guardianship, or they may want to avoid sparking a child custody dispute. Sometimes a “caretaker” simply doesn’t want to be a legal guardian because that caretaker simply doesn’t want to be scrutinized by the court or pay the (actually quite modest) legal fees involved with becoming a legal guardian. Still, such adults may need – and should have – the counsel of an experienced Indiana family law attorney.

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Many adults – often grandparents, but sometimes others – raise a child who is not their own without any authorization from the courts. Again, in some states, without guardianship you may have trouble signing up the child for school, seeking medical care, and obtaining benefits. Other states are making it easier for those who want to avoid the legal guardianship process. California has designed a form that allows an adult who is neither a parent nor a guardian to enroll a child in school and make medical choices for the child without going to court. Raising someone else’s child is a huge personal sacrifice, and those making that sacrifice need all the help they can get.