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.