Child Custody

Child Custody Agreements That Are Considered “Unique”

Nothing could be more important to you than your child or children. In Indiana and in every other state, there are as many different plans and arrangements for child custody and visitation as there are divorced parents.

When you divorce in this state, if you and your child’s other parent want to establish a child custody arrangement that is unique or that differs from a standard arrangement, with the help of a Lake County child custody lawyer, you must provide the court with a sound reason why your plan is in the best interests of the child or children.

WHY MIGHT YOUR PARENTING PLAN BE REJECTED BY A FAMILY COURT?

Divorcing parents will need to consider their child custody and child visitation options carefully before settling on any specific parenting plan. A child custody attorney’s advice, insights, and experience can be quite valuable and useful at this time.

family law judge

In most divorces, if the parents can reach their own agreement regarding custody and visitation, a family court judge will “sign off” on that agreement. However, an Indiana judge will not approve any custody arrangement that does not appear to be in the best interests of the child or children.

WHAT KINDS OF PARENTING PLANS ARE CONSIDERED UNIQUE?

For example, an arrangement that includes extended family members – that places a child with an aunt, uncle, adult sibling, or a grandparent at least part of the time – is considered unique. Divorcing same-sex couples sometimes create a plan that includes the child’s other birth parent.

However, when additional parties are involved in a child custody and visitation plan, the parents will need to offer persuasive evidence to the court that the plan is genuinely in the best interests of the child or children.

An arrangement that separates siblings would also be considered “unique” in Indiana. The separation of siblings is rarely seen by a family court as being in their best interests.

HOW CAN A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY HELP?

Generally speaking, Indiana family courts will accept a parenting plan when both parents agree to it, but a judge will reject a parenting plan – and will certainly reject a “unique” parenting plan – if the parents cannot ensure its success.

The parents in such cases will need to persuade the judge that the arrangement serves the best interests of the child or children. In Indiana, parents in these cases should have an experienced family lawyer present the plan to the court on their behalf.

A parenting plan determines the parenting and visitation time that divorced parents will spend with their children. When it’s possible, divorcing parents should try to agree on a plan that fits their schedules and allows their children to enjoy a positive relationship with both parents.

WHY IS COOPERATION BETWEEN DIVORCING PARENTS SO IMPORTANT?

If divorcing parents can cooperate and create a parenting plan that puts the interests of their children first, they can save time and money, avoid a contentious courtroom scene, and they can also cushion the damaging blow that a divorce invariably imposes on children.

When divorcing parents cannot mutually agree on a custody and visitation agreement, an Indiana court will impose its own custody and visitation decision in the final Decree of Dissolution.

CAN A PARENTING PLAN BE CHANGED IN THE FUTURE?

Although a custody and visitation agreement can be changed or “modified” at a later date, a parent who requests a modification of the child custody order must demonstrate that a substantial change in circumstances justifies the modification.

After the initial resolution of visitation and custody matters, an Indiana family court will be reticent to make any changes, so any subsequent modification must be in the best interests of the child or children.

happy children playing

If a child custody modification request is opposed by the other parent, a hearing is scheduled, and each parent will need the services of a qualified family law attorney.

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO BE TREATED FAVORABLY BY THE COURT?

If you are a parent and you are considering a divorce in Indiana – or if you anticipate that you will be served with divorce papers filed by your spouse – you should work actively to strengthen your relationship with your child or children and to increase your involvement in their lives.

Spend as much time as you can with your child or children to make certain that your role in your child’s life is obvious to the court.

However, if you are a parent with a lengthy criminal record, a recent conviction, an addiction issue, or a history of domestic abuse, don’t expect to be awarded the custody of your child or children. That almost certainly won’t happen.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD PARENTS KNOW BEFORE A CHILD CUSTODY HEARING?

Indiana family law judges may also consider a child’s wishes when making a child custody determination. Clearly, a 12-year-old’s wishes will be given more consideration than a 4-year-old’s. A great deal depends on the child’s maturity – regardless of the child’s age.

Family law judges will look for signs that a child has been improperly influenced by a parent. The court also investigates each parent’s role in a child’s life. It will consider a parent’s age, income, mental and physical health, and the contribution each parent makes to a child’s life.

parents fighting

Unfortunately, a child custody dispute is often the most acrimonious aspect of a divorce proceeding. Parents will need to guard their emotions and demonstrate to the court that putting their children first is their highest priority.

In cases where parents cannot cooperate or agree on custody and visitation, and the court imposes its own custody and visitation order, both parents frequently end up displeased.

WHEN SHOULD A DIVORCING PARENT SEEK A CHILD CUSTODY LAW FIRM’S HELP?

That’s why, if you can find any common ground whatsoever with your child’s other parent, you should take advantage of it and try to come up with a parenting plan that will be acceptable to both of you – and to the court. A Lake County child custody attorney can help.

If you are a parent who is divorcing or who is involved in a post-divorce child custody dispute, you must be represented by a trustworthy child custody lawyer who understands your concerns.

Parents who need legal advice and representation should speak as quickly as they can with an experienced Indiana family law attorney. A good lawyer’s help is your right. Your future – and your children’s futures – could depend on it.

How Does Virtual Visitation Work?

Divorce isn’t easy, but technology is making one aspect of divorce a little less difficult for parents and kids.

Our Indiana child support lawyers have learned about virtual visitation, which is a relatively new development in child custody and visitation law. It’s altering the way non-custodial parents communicate with their children.

It’s child visitation that lets parents include technology – Skype, email, video mail, video conferencing, and instant messaging – as part of a child custody order or visitation agreement.

IS VIRTUAL VISITATION RIGHT FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILD?

The request to use virtual visitation technology is typically made by a non-custodial parent when either parent is relocating and thus making regular physical visitations impractical.

Virtual visitation – sometimes called “electronic” or “internet visitation,” has unexpectedly boomed in the 21st century, and it’s a growing aspect of family law.

Studies have shown that face-to-face communication increases the sense of bonding – and particularly for younger children – more effectively than audio-only telephone calls.

WHAT STATES HAVE VIRTUAL VISITATION LAWS?

Utah was the first state to order virtual visitation when a divorced father asked a judge to order “visitations” with his son through Skype. The Utah case generated a surge of requests for virtual visitation.

Utah, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina now allow courts to order virtual visitation in cases where it’s appropriate.

A number of other states, including Indiana, are now considering virtual visitation legislation.

But even without laws on the books, judges will consider proposals for virtual visitation if virtual visitation is in the best interests of the child.

In many of the states that do not have specific virtual visitation legislation, family courts have already approved the use of technology to enhance parental visitation privileges.

WHAT DO VIRTUAL VISITATION LAWS REQUIRE?

Virtual visitation is intended to supplement rather than replace traditional visitation time. In the states that have virtual visitation laws, those laws require parents to:

1. allow and facilitate virtual visitation
2. make virtual visitation reasonably available
3. permit uncensored and private communication with the child

Any time a child is involved in a legal matter in Indiana, any court ruling must be consistent with the best interests of the child.

WHAT DO COURTS CONSIDER WHEN VIRTUAL VISITATION IS REQUESTED?

Thus, Indiana courts will consider the best interests of the child in determining whether to allow parent-child virtual visitations.

An Indiana court probably will not approve virtual visitation if regular visitation would not have been granted in the same case.

As you might imagine, virtual visitation has advantages and disadvantages for everyone involved. However, most observers are saying that the benefits are far-reaching and easily outweigh the drawbacks.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL VISITATION?

Virtual visitation may benefit a parent-child relationship in a number of ways. Here are some examples:

1. helping a child with homework
2. reading a story to a child at bedtime
3. seeing subtle facial expressions on one another’s faces
4. the ability to see the child in Little League games, school plays, and other events

CAN VIRTUAL VISITATION BE MISUSED?

As for the disadvantages of virtual visitation, some observers worry that it may become a substitute – rather than an enhancement – for physical, in-person visitations.

Some observers also believe that virtual visitation makes it easier for a custodial parent to move away and thus obstruct the child’s direct relationship with the non-custodial parent.

Whether you’re for it or against it, the fact is that virtual visitation is changing old presumptions about child custody and visitation.

Virtual visitation allows non-custodial parents to participate more fully in a child’s life, but it should never be used by a parent to replace face-to-face time with his or her child.

HOW CAN A FAMILY LAWYER HELP?

It’s quite rare in Indiana for a non-custodial parent to be denied reasonable visitation opportunities. However, visitation disputes sometimes emerge that must be resolved by a court.

If you are divorced, divorcing, or anticipating a divorce in Indiana, or if you never married your child’s other parent, and if your right to visit your child is a concern, speak promptly to an experienced Lake County family law attorney.

If the court has approved your visitation privileges, but your child’s other parent is obstructing or preventing those visits, a good family lawyer can help.

You may at some point need to have the visitation arrangement or order changed or “modified,” and a good family lawyer can request that modification from the court on your behalf.

CAN A PARENT BE DENIED ALL TYPES OF VISITATIONS?

An Indiana court will deny all visitation rights to a non-custodial parent only in the rarest situations.

Unless a parent has a record of domestic or sexual abuse or substance abuse, Indiana courts will almost always allow some type of visitation, although in some cases the visits must be supervised.

But if you’ve been convicted of a drug crime or a crime of violence, you may have a tough time obtaining any visitation privileges – even for virtual or supervised visitations.

HOW DOES VIRTUAL VISITATION WORK?

Indiana courts also encourage parents to make their own visitation arrangements, except when irreconcilable differences compel the court to consider visitation and issue visitation orders.

When a court orders virtual visitation, the custodial parent is required to provide the contact information. Both parents must respect the other’s privacy rights and may not interfere during a virtual visitation.

Parents usually notify each other to designate a time slot for a virtual visitation. When parents cannot agree, the court will set a virtual visitation schedule.

IN A VISITATION DISPUTE, HOW CAN YOU MOVE FORWARD?

Especially if you are – or if you become – a “long-distance” parent, virtual visitation may be just the answer for you.

In Indiana, if you are divorcing or anticipating a divorce, or if you are having a dispute with your child’s other parent regarding visitation, let an experienced Lake County family law attorney help.

Your attorney will be able to explain how virtual visitation might work in your own case, and your attorney will help you create a virtual visitation schedule that works for all parties and receives the court’s approval.

Technology bridges many gaps. We live in an age where distance from your child doesn’t necessarily mean separation from your child.

Of course, nothing is as good as the genuine, quality time a parent spends face-to-face with his or her children. But if you are a parent, knowing that virtual visitation is an option can bring real peace of mind.

Nothing is more important than your child and your relationship with that child. And as you know, kids grow up fast.

Get the legal help you need as quickly as you can if you are seeking virtual visitation rights or if you need to learn more about virtual visitation.

Preparing For A Child Custody Mediation

Nothing can cause more anxiety or concern for a parent than a battle over the custody of a child. During and even after a divorce, you may have concerns about who’s raising your children, when and if you can see them, and what the future has in store.

You’re about to learn how to prepare for a child custody dispute and how the mediation process might be the best path for you to take.

In almost every area of the law, judges and child custody attorneys are seeking alternatives to costly, lengthy, and emotionally-draining courtroom battles. Mediation is one of those alternatives.

In the state of Indiana, mediation is frequently the choice for resolving divorces, custody battles, and other family law disputes. Mediation is almost always less costly and stressful than a courtroom trial.

In a child custody mediation, both parents and their attorneys confer with a neutral mediator regarding the custody of the child.

No judge participates or is even present at the mediation sessions, although a judge will be asked to “sign off” on any agreement that the parents reach. If no agreement is achieved in mediation, a full custody trial may be required.

WHAT MUST PARENTS DO TO PREPARE FOR A CHILD CUSTODY MEDIATION?

It’s imperative to be well-prepared for a child custody mediation.

For some parents, preparation will be the key to winning custody of your child. If mediation fails, your preparation has not been wasted, because it puts you in a good position for going to trial.

To be as well-prepared as possible for a child custody mediation:

– Take the time to compile all of the pertinent information and evidence that you need.
– Outline and understand the issues in the dispute.
– Establish your goals and be proactive in achieving them.

As a parent seeking custody of your child, it is essential to have all of the information that you need.

Here in Indiana, an experienced Lake County child custody attorney can file discovery motions, request subpoenas, and conduct depositions under oath to help a parent gather the information and evidence that may be needed in the course of the mediation process.

HOW DOES THE DISCOVERY PROCESS WORK?

Your attorney may file a motion for disclosure to begin the discovery procedure.

A motion for disclosure requires the disclosure of information such as the names of persons who have knowledge of relevant facts in the case and the names of any expert witnesses the other side intends to question.

Your attorney can also request documents, such as income tax returns, that may be pertinent to your case.

Written discovery motions and “interrogatories” – written questions that must be answered in writing and under oath – are the least costly way to compile evidence in the discovery phase of a child custody contest.

Due to the high cost of a deposition – a face-to-face interrogation conducted under oath and transcribed by a court reporter – depositions are not usually conducted in the discovery phase of a child custody case.

As you gather information to prepare for the child custody mediation sessions, begin to clarify the issues that you want to discuss during mediation, and make certain that you understand those issues.

Don’t hesitate to organize your thoughts on paper or to discuss the issues that are important to you with your attorney.

WHAT WILL YOU NEED TO EXPLAIN IN THE MEDIATION SESSIONS?

During the mediation sessions, you need to be able to explain, diplomatically, why you should have custody of your child and your child’s other parent should not.

There might be any number of reasons why one parent should have custody and the other should not, so no list can be exhaustive, but some of the specific reasons why parents seek custody include:

– Your child has special needs that are being overlooked.
– Your neighborhood has less crime and/or better schools.
– Your child’s other parent cohabits with an abusive partner.
– Your child’s other parent has mental health or substance abuse issues.

HOW CAN A CHILD CUSTODY ATTORNEY HELP YOU WITH MEDIATION?

Overall, the most important preparation for a child custody mediation is knowing your goals and objectives and discussing them thoroughly with your attorney.

Let’s say that your primary goal is the sole custody of your child. If your primary goal begins to look impossible, have a Plan B – maybe physical custody of your child in a joint legal custody arrangement, for example – and even a Plan C.

Be certain that you and your attorney are on the same page and are pursuing the same strategy and tactics throughout the mediation process.

Your family law attorney must be someone that you like and someone that you are entirely comfortable working with and trusting.

In Gary, Lake County, and northwest Indiana, parents in any child custody dispute will need to be advised and represented by a child custody attorney.

As a general rule of thumb, family courts in Indiana usually want a child to have healthy relationships with both parents and to spend time with both parents.

Courts and mediators encourage divorced, divorcing, or never-married parents to work together on matters like custody, visitation details, and child support.

Mediation facilitates such agreements and works to reduce the level of acrimony and stress that typically accompany courtroom custody battles.

Parents entering into child custody mediation should understand that if they cannot reach a custody agreement through the mediation process, the mediator will probably make his or her own recommendation to the judge based on what transpired in the mediation sessions.

In most cases where mediation fails, an Indiana family court will accept the mediator’s recommendation regarding the custody of the child.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING THAT A CHILD CUSTODY MEDIATION REQUIRES?

When parents agree to mediation, both should be willing to cooperate and to make some compromises. What mediation requires is a cooperative attitude.

When a divorce was or is acrimonious, or when the parents actively distrust or express antagonism to one another, mediation probably is not the right path for those parents.

You wouldn’t trade your relationship and your future with your child for any amount of money. If a child custody dispute arises, a Lake County child custody attorney can help.

For many families in Indiana, mediation will be the best possible way to resolve a child custody dispute.

However, the mediation process only works if both parents bring a spirit of cooperation to the mediation sessions – and if they come well-prepared.

If you know your goals and how you want to reach those goals in a child custody dispute, contact a family law attorney at once to learn more about mediation.

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. Our child support lawyers can help.

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 a top Lake County child support lawyer.

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 child support 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.

Babies With Three Parents: They’re Already Here

Our Merrillville child support lawyers learned that 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 child support 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.

DO KIDS’ OPINIONS MATTER IN CHILD CUSTODY HEARINGS?

Article Twelve of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that all children have the right to form their own views and to express themselves freely in all matters that impact their families and their lives. In particular, our child support attorneys know that children old enough to form views and express themselves should be allowed to speak in hearings that will impact their family, their living arrangements, and their future, either on their own or through adults who are representing them. The right of children to be heard, especially in custody proceedings, is finding increasing acceptance in family courts in all fifty U.S. states. If you and your child or children become involved in a divorce or in a post-divorce child custody dispute, retain the legal counsel you need at once by contacting our trustworthy child support lawyers, and in northwest Indiana, speak with an experienced Lake County child support attorney.

Today, while a child’s feelings and opinions cannot be the final say in a child custody matter, most family law judges want to at least consider a child’s feelings and opinions when making a child custody determination. It wasn’t always so. Under the Roman Empire, children were simply the property of their father, and a father could even sell his children into slavery if he liked. Mothers had no legal rights at all regarding their children. Under English common law, fathers still had predominance, but they were at least legally obliged to support, protect, and educate their children.

CHANGES THROUGH TIME

Real change began only in the 19th century when the British Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act of 1839, which ordered British courts to award custody of children under the age of seven to their mothers. The Custody of Infants Act was the first significant historical legal challenge to the complete authority of fathers. The 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in the United States, giving women the right to vote, was another milestone. By the 1930s, the pendulum had swung entirely in the other direction, and U.S. and British courts simply presumed that children should be with their mothers.

In the 21st century, our family law courts are supposed to be gender-neutral, the priority in custody battles is supposed to be the best interests of the child, and judges may consider any number of factors, including a child’s own ideas, feelings, and testimony. Researchers in Canada found that both children and judges benefit from a child’s participation in a custody hearing. Children who are old enough typically want to be involved in the proceedings, and judges have found that a child’s testimony often confirms and complements the evidence and facts in a child custody case. Other studies have indicated that a child’s participation in his or her own custody case adds to the child’s sense that the hearing was conducted fairly and honestly.

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WHAT DOES A COURT CONSIDER?

In every state, parents who are divorcing are encouraged to come to an agreement about child custody on their own. Many states provide for private or court-sponsored arbitration and/or mediation proceedings prior to any formal courtroom proceeding regarding child custody. Courts will base child custody decisions on “the best interests” of the child. The term “best interests” can be open to interpretation, and family courts will consider a number of factors to determine what is actually in a child’s best interests. When a child is old enough to articulate his or her feelings, the child’s opinion will almost always be one – among many – factors that a judge will consider.

WHAT AGE IS APPROPRIATE?

Frankly, in Indiana and many other states, a child will rarely testify openly in a child custody hearing. Even if a child is old enough and deemed competent to testify, many parents and attorneys resist allowing a child to testify in open court. Indiana law, however, allows a judge to meet privately with a child during the course of a custody proceeding. Parents typically are not allowed to sit in on these meetings. A judge may also appoint a licensed therapist or social worker to speak with the child and testify on the child’s behalf. While a judge may be intimidating to some children, those children may be much more comfortable speaking with a social worker who is trained to deal with children in sensitive environments. In Indiana and a number of other states, to eliminate any undue influence from a manipulative or controlling parent, a child’s wishes regarding custody are not considered a major factor unless the child is at least 14 years old. In child custody cases, family law judges are vigilant for signs that a child is being improperly influenced by one parent.

Obviously, a 12-year-old’s request to live with one parent or the other will be given more weight than a 3-year-old’s request. It is less likely that the court will try to bring a younger child into the proceedings to learn about his or her wishes. Still, the preference of a younger child will not be dismissed entirely. A great deal will also depend on the maturity and understanding of the individual child, at almost any age. A child who is honest, obedient, and does well in school will have more influence with a judge than a child the same age who is dishonest and routinely in trouble.

UNDUE PARENTAL INFLUENCE

In many child custody cases, a parent will try to influence a child to obtain a favorable custody ruling. A parent may bribe, coax, cajole, make promises, or even bully or intimidate the child. This is one of several important reasons why a child’s testimony cannot be the final determining factor in a court’s child custody decision. Experienced judges look for nuances in a child’s testimony that may point to the suitability or to the unsuitability of one parent or the other. A judge will consider the child’s composure, body language, and tone of voice as well as the child’s words.

If you and your child are involved in a child custody dispute, the judge will certainly be looking for any signs that the child is being unduly influenced. If a child expresses hostility to one parent, the court will not hesitate to delve into the reasons for that hostility. Never try to influence your child against the other parent. If the judge decides that you have negatively influenced your child against the other parent, you could lose your bid for custody of your child. The better strategy is to seek the help and advice of an experienced family law attorney, and then adhere to that attorney’s advice.

OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Your child’s preference in a child custody dispute may be overruled by the court for a number of reasons. For example, the separation of siblings is rarely seen as being in the best interests of any of the children. A court may also be reticent to upset the status quo if the current living arrangement satisfies the requirement for the court to decide in the child’s best interests. If one parent has a recent criminal conviction – or has a substantial criminal record – that will probably be the determining factor in a child custody case, regardless of a child’s wishes. Where there has been a history of drug or alcohol abuse or domestic violence, that fact will be considered as well.

In many states, a family court judge can bring in a child custody evaluator who will investigate the family and its history, interview family members and acquaintances, and perform psychological tests, observations, and evaluations. A child custody evaluator must remain neutral and disregard any personal prejudice to obtain balanced and accurate information regarding both parents in the child custody dispute, and a custody evaluator must protect the privacy of everyone involved. In some states, judges may base their custody orders directly on the results of a child custody evaluation.

Lake County family law attorney

MODIFICATIONS OF CHILD CUSTODY ORDERS

When a custody order is issued, both parents must adhere to it. That does not mean, however, that the particular arrangement is necessarily permanent. Over time, what is best for a child is likely to change. A child custody order may be modified permanently or temporarily by the court whenever there has been a substantial change in either parent’s life circumstances. A disabling injury, unemployment or incarceration, or a new child with another partner are the kinds of circumstances that can lead to the modification of a child custody order. The court may approve a modification in such circumstances, but only if the modification is in the child’s best interests.

When parents can work together and agree on a custody arrangement, and the court signs off on that agreement, it’s best for everyone. Obviously, when parents cannot agree, a divorce or child custody proceeding can become emotionally charged and a drain on everyone involved. If you are involved in a divorce with children or in a post-divorce custody dispute, you need to contact a trustworthy family lawyer who can be understanding and sensitive to your concerns while fighting aggressively on behalf of you and your child. In Indiana, parents who need more information – or legal representation in a divorce or a child custody matter – should speak with an experienced Lake County family law attorney.

When Does a Court Award Joint Legal Custody?

In Indiana, divorcing parents may opt for a joint legal custody situation. They may decide to divide physical custody of the child, which means that one person may have primary physical custody of the child, while the other person has visitation rights. However, they may decide to share legal custody of the child in an arrangement called a joint legal custody situation.

A court in Merrillville, however, will award legal custody to both of the parents only if such an arrangement is in the child’s best interests. As a parent, you might believe that the child is much better off if both you and your ex-spouse share legal custody. However, the court may not see it that way.

In order for you to obtain joint legal custody of your child, you must prove to the court that the child has a very close and established relationship with both of the parents. You and your ex-spouse must live close to each other. You must have a mutually cooperative and cordial relationship. In other words, if you are hostile to each other, or have a relationship that is marked by friction, the court will not decide that awarding joint legal custody is in the child’s best interests.

You must be able to provide a stable, solid, emotionally secure environment in both of your homes. You must also be able to provide a physically safe environment home for the child.

If the child is above 14 years of age, the court may even decide to take the child’s wishes into consideration.

For questions about child custody arrangements, speak to a Merrillville divorce lawyer. These are sensitive issues, and must be handled with tact. Consult with a Merrillville divorce lawyer about protecting your rights to child custody.

Modification of Child Custody in Indiana

Are you looking to modify your child custody arrangement in the state of Indiana? Significant changes in yours or your child’s life may require a modification to your current child custody plan. If so, here is some information you should know before you attempt to go through the process.

The Best Interest of the Child

One of the most important things to keep in mind with child custody modifications is that the change must be approved by the court. Even if the custodial parents or guardians agree to the modification it still must go through the court for the change to be legal. There are multiple factors that will be considered when granting modifications to the order.

The factor that is considered as the most important in making modifications is the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child is not the same in every case and the courts will look at the situation based on its own merit. The welfare and best interest of the child is always of the utmost importance when making custody modifications.

Arguably one of the simplest ways to make a child custody modification is for both parents to recognize the change in life circumstances and agree to a new custody arrangement. The arrangement would need to be approved by the court. This can typically be done without a hearing.

However, more often than not, the parents will not agree on the changes in custody and will each have their own opinion on how the modification should be made, or if it should be made at all. In situations such as this, the parents, along with their child support attorneys, would need to present their case in court and show that their preferred custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.

Child Custody Modification Attorney

In many situations, you could benefit from hiring an attorney that handles child custody modification cases. An attorney with child custody modification experience will be able to guide you through the process. Court orders can be difficult to change and having legal assistance will increase your odds of a good outcome.

Your attorney will aid you in preparing the necessary evidence to present in court when necessary. Here are some examples of the evidence that may be gathered in a child custody modification case to prove that a change is in the best interest of the child:

  • Original custody order
  • School attendance records and report cards
  • Medical records
  • Dental records
  • Counseling records
  • Social media postings
  • Relevant photos or videos
  • Tax returns and pay stubs
  • Work records
  • Witness contact information
  • Proof of daycare, caregiver, or babysitter costs
  • Relationship, location, or job changes

You should be prepared for potentially lengthy hearings if the other party does not agree to your custody modification. It is not uncommon for the other parent to make allegations that you are unsuited to receive more time with the child. This is one of the reasons that it helps to have a child support lawyer on your side, particularly if the other parent has enlisted the help of their own attorney. You will need to prepare for such allegations and be able to present your evidence.