Child Custody Lawyers Explain Indiana Legal Custody and Parenting Time

June 07, 2022

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

Child Custody Lawyers Explain Indiana Legal Custody and Parenting Time

Fighting for legal custody or parenting time can be challenging and overwhelming as a parent. Without experience in the legal system, the child custody process can be daunting and difficult to navigate. Understanding the difference between custody and visitation—or parenting time—is an important first step. You need experienced child custody lawyers who understand the Indiana custody laws and guidelines and can help you evaluate and work toward an outcome that protects your best interests as well as those of your child or children.

Whether you are fighting for legal custody, physical custody, or parenting time, the court will reach its final decision based on the best interests of the child. From the time of filing to the final hearing, an experienced custody and parenting time attorney should employ a legal strategy that centers on why spending time or living with you is in your child’s best interest.

An Overview of Indiana Custody and the Role of Child Custody Lawyers

When parents seek custody of their child, there are several areas related to custody and visitation that must also be addressed. Whether it is in the context of a divorce, two parents fighting for custody after a divorce, or paternity proceedings, the court must enter an order allocating legal custody, physical custody, and parenting time between the parents.

Child custody lawyers have a critical role in this process. The terminology and concepts of legal custody and parenting time are often foreign to parents, creating the potential of misunderstandings and disputes that might be avoided with a better understanding of the law. The Indiana child custody attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP explain the difference between custody and visitation so that you can work with them to develop the best strategy possible for the custody and parenting time order you seek.

Child Custody in Indiana: The Meaning of Legal Custody

A parent who has legal custody is responsible for making long-term decisions about important aspects of the child’s life. When a parent has sole legal custody, that person can make these decisions without the requirement of considering the wishes or opinions of the other parent. These decisions may relate to:

  • Schooling
  • Medical care
  • Religious instruction
  • Other major child-rearing matters

A court may award legal custody to both parents, which is called joint legal custody. In such cases, the parents must confer and agree on major childrearing decisions like those listed above. However, a joint custody order may not be appropriate if either or both parents demonstrate that the parties cannot work cooperatively in raising and making decisions about their child.

“Physical Custody” Means Parenting Time in Indiana

Legal custody is not related to the physical custody of the child, although one may impact the other, nor is physical custody a legal term in Indiana. Instead, physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child is staying according to the parenting time schedule. There is no presumption in favor of a particular parenting time schedule, equal or otherwise. Instead, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines presume that it is in the child’s best interest to have a parenting time schedule that provides meaningful and frequent contact with each parent.

While the best interests of the child standard should be the primary guide in determining an appropriate parenting time schedule, the courts and parents must also consider logistical matters such as how far the parents live from each other and issues transporting the child between homes.

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines

Parents are encouraged to work together to develop a parenting time schedule that provides meaningful time for each with their child. However, when the parents cannot agree, each can submit a proposed parenting time schedule to the court. Such matters are often set for an evidentiary hearing, after which the judge determines the parenting time schedule. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines offer much direction on parenting time schedules in both scenarios.

The guidelines consider “parenting time” to include not only physical time spent with the child but also:

  • Telephone calls
  • “Snail mail” communication
  • Electronic communications, such as email or texting

The parenting time guidelines set forth a suggested parenting time schedule that differs depending on the age of the child and the proximity of the parents’ respective homes. For children three and older that live near the noncustodial parent, the parenting schedule will include alternating weekends, one evening per week, scheduled holidays, and school breaks.

However, the minimum time is different when there is a greater physical distance between the parents’ homes. In such cases, children ages three through four have four non-consecutive weeks during the year with one of the parents, and that parent must give at least 60 days’ notice of the use of a particular week.

For a child older than five, the parenting time includes one-half of summer vacation, or, if school is year-round or runs on a balanced schedule, the parenting time is one-half of the time for fall and spring school breaks. Depending on the scheduled parenting time, one parent may be entitled to regular parenting time when the child is with the other parent for an extended period of time.

At Keffer Hirschauer LLP, we understand that parenting time is a sensitive matter for many, which can make negotiating—or litigating—the issue very emotional. Our child custody lawyers can help you work with your child’s other parent toward an agreed parenting time schedule or, if that isn’t possible, fight in court for the parenting time schedule that’s best for your child and your rights as a parent.

Understanding the Best Interest of the Child Standard

Many parents mistakenly believe custody and parenting time are determined by who is the better parent. In fact, under Indiana Code § 31-17-2-8, the court makes custody and parenting time determinations using the best interests of the child standard. Under this standard, the court must consider several factors, including:

  • The age and sex of the child
  • The wishes of the child’s parents
  • The wishes of the child, with wishes of children 14 or older carrying more weight
  • The child’s relationship with their parents and any siblings
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of the child and parents
  • Evidence of violence by a parent
  • Evidence that a de factor custodian cared or cares for the child

Child custody lawyers can help parents establish that it is in the child’s best interest for the court to award them custody, or at a minimum, parenting time. An Indiana family law attorney knows the type of evidence courts are looking for when determining and parenting time orders in Indiana. This is not a time to be a DIYer—contact the experienced child custody lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP in Indiana for help with your case.

Child Custody Lawyers Will Guide You Through the Court Process

Going to court for legal custody and parenting time in Indiana can be intimidating. There’s a lot at stake when you’re fighting for your child and navigating an unknown legal system. Child custody lawyers have experience with the custody process and know how to best present your case.

Either parent can open a case in the county in which they live. Married parents can file for divorce or legal separation, both of which will result in a child custody order and parenting time plan. If the parties are already divorced, they can revisit custody and parenting time by filing a motion for modification of custody or parenting time.

Unmarried parents can file for a parenting plan and custody by opening a paternity case or filing a motion for modification in an existing paternity case. If you have questions regarding which court is the proper venue for the petition, contact Keffer Hirschauer’s paternity lawyers for capable representation.

If the parents cannot agree on a custody and/or parenting time arrangement, the court will set the matter for hearing. There is no specific age at which a child may testify, but the judge may decide how much weight to give a child’s testimony depending on the child’s age.

Whether filing the correct paperwork, attending the final hearing, or somewhere in between, working with an Indiana child custody lawyer provides you the best chance at a successful outcome. With experience in the child custody legal system, skilled attorneys will ensure your case follows all the required procedures and will help you construct the best argument for the mediation and final hearing. Fortunately, should you disagree with the decision, you have the opportunity to modify the court order.

How Child Custody Lawyers Can Help You Modify a Child Custody Order

Should you desire to change an existing child custody or parenting time order, you must file a motion to modify the order with the court that issued the order. The court must approve any modification of an existing order. If you and the other parent agree to a change but do not get the court’s stamp of approval, the original court order is still enforceable despite the parents’ oral agreement otherwise.

Like the original custody or parenting time order, modification must be in the best interests of the child. Under Indiana Code § 31-17-2-21, a parent seeking modification must demonstrate a need for a changing in the existing orders by showing that there has been a substantial change of circumstances in one of the factors under Indiana Code § 31-17-2-8.

A child custody lawyer from Keffer Hirschauer LLP can evaluate the facts in your case to help develop a strategy for modifying child custody, the parenting time order, or both.

The Role of a Guardian Ad Litem

To protect the child from litigation while still ensuring the court’s order meets the child’s best interests, judges can appoint a guardian ad litem. The guardian represents the child’s best interests (as opposed to strictly the wishes of the parent) and provides recommendations to the judge regarding custody and parenting time that align with those interests. When the court makes such an appointment, the guardian ad litem meets with the parents and child separately to gather information about the family’s situation and then files a report and recommendations with the court.

It is important to cooperate with the guardian ad litem, who can have a significant impact on the outcome in your child custody or parenting time matter. As such, it is smart to have your attorney present when communicating and meeting with the guardian.

Why Parents Call Indiana Child Custody Lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP

Whether you seek an initial custody or parenting time order or modification of an existing order, hiring an experienced Indiana family law attorney to represent you is essential. Keffer Hirschauer LLP has experienced child custody lawyers ready to fight for you. For a free consultation, contact us at (317) 857-0160 or send us a message.

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