Understanding Third Party Custody in Indiana
Generally speaking, third party custody in Indiana is a legal arrangement where someone who is not the biological parent of a child steps in to take over parental responsibilities. This arrangement is recognized by Indiana courts when it serves the best interests of the child, particularly in situations where the biological parents are unable to fulfill their roles due to a variety of reasons, including incapacity, absence, or issues concerning the child’s welfare.
For those without formal legal education, navigating the complexities of third-party custody in Indiana can be a daunting journey. This area of family law is multifaceted, involving intricate legal nuances and deep emotional considerations. Thankfully, however, Indiana law does provide a clear framework for how cases like this are to be handled, ensuring that the child’s welfare is paramount in any custody decision.
This post will explore the legal landscape of third-party custody in Indiana, offering insights and guidance to those who might be considering this significant step. Yet, if you do have further questions about third party custody in Indiana or need assistance with a custody-related legal matter, the Indiana child custody lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP are available to assist you.
Our team of skilled litigators recognize that legal matters pertaining to your children and your parental rights in Indiana are emotional and sometimes overwhelming. By arming our clients with knowledge and unwavering legal support, we strive to make a tough legal issue as easy as possible. Simply put, we stand at your side for the duration of your case.
What is Third Party Custody in Indiana?
Third party custody in Indiana represents a legal mechanism that allows someone other than the biological parents to take on the role of caring for a child. This often comes into play when parents are unable to care for their child due to various reasons such as incapacity, absence, or other significant issues that impact their ability to provide for the child’s well-being. In Indiana, the law acknowledges the potential necessity for such arrangements and offers two main avenues for third parties to seek custody.
The first path is delineated by Indiana Code 31-17-2-3(2), which grants the right to “any person other than a parent” to petition the court for child custody. This statute is a broad gateway, providing legal standing to any individual—potentially a relative, family friend, or another person with a significant bond with the child—to initiate an independent custody action. This means that as long as you have a substantial relationship with the child, the courts will recognize your capability to step forward and request custody.
The second avenue is specifically for individuals who have been acting in the capacity of what Indiana law terms as a “de facto custodian.” To be considered a de facto custodian, according to Indiana Code 31-9-2-35.5, one must have been: (a) the primary caregiver AND (b) the financial supporter of a child who has lived with them for a specific period of time. For a child under three years old, the individual must have been the caregiver for at least six months. If the child is three years or older, the caregiver must have fulfilled that role for a minimum of one year.
When it comes to seeking third party custody, status as a de facto custodian is pivotal. Under Indiana Code 31-17-2-8.5, when a court finds that, by clear and convincing evidence, has been cared for by a de facto custodian, the court shall make the custodian a party to the proceeding. This allows for the de facto custodian to initiate a custody modification, and thus seek legal custody over the biological parents.
Differences between Adoption, Guardianship and Third-Party Custody
Adoption, guardianship, and third party custody in Indiana are three distinct legal paths for caring for a child, each with unique implications. Adoption is a permanent arrangement that legally assimilates the child into a new family, severing ties with the biological parents. Guardianship allows an appointed guardian to care for the child without terminating the biological parents’ rights, often used in temporary or reversible circumstances. Third party custody, on the other hand, grants custody to a non-parent but maintains the biological parents’ potential rights to regain custody and can involve court-ordered child support in Indiana.
The main difference between these three distinct legal paths lay in the court’s participation in the custody arrangement. For instance, an adoption is concluded with the finalization of the process, while guardianship and third party custody cases may remain open, allowing for the Court to order adjustments until the child reaches adulthood. On top of that, guardians and third-party custodians have responsibilities akin to those of a parent, but they operate with more court oversight than an adoptive parent.
How To Get Third Party Custody in Indiana
The pursuit of third-party custody in Indiana, whether initiated independently or by a de facto custodian, is neither a straightforward nor an assured path. It requires navigating a rigorous legal challenge that demands the petitioner to meet a significant burden of proof. The legal foundation rests on determining what serves the “best interests of the child,” a principle that permeates through family law and is outlined in Indiana Code 31-17-2-8.
Indiana courts operate under a strong presumption that a child’s best interests are typically met when they remain in the care and custody of their biological parents. This presumption forms a considerable hurdle for third parties. To surmount it, one must present clear and convincing evidence that not only is the current living situation not conducive to the child’s welfare but also that living with a third party would significantly benefit the child. It’s not merely about offering a better life in terms of material comforts but ensuring a substantial improvement in the child’s overall well-being.
In order to be granted third party custody of a child, the Indiana Supreme Court insists that a trial court must be thoroughly persuaded, through unambiguous evidence, that the proposed third-party custody arrangement would confer a substantial and significant advantage to the child over their current situation. The evidence must go beyond the surface to address the child’s emotional, psychological, and developmental needs, proving that these would be better served in the third party’s care.
How a Child Custody Lawyer Can Help a Third Party Gain Custody
To rebut the natural parent presumption, the third-party petitioner seeking to make a change of custody in Indiana must demonstrate a robust case that aligns with the child’s best interests. Typically, this involves a detailed assessment of the child’s needs and how the petitioner’s environment, capability, and relationship with the child fulfill those needs more fittingly than the biological parent’s.
This process is not about finding fault with the biological parents but rather focusing on the child’s future and stability. The court will only consider transitioning custody once it is convinced that the third party’s involvement promises a definitive improvement in the child’s quality of life and aligns with their best interests.
In order to better increase the chances of being awarded third party custody in Indiana, the petitioner should seek to hire a skilled Indiana child custody attorney with past experience handling related matters of family law. They would be able to help the petitioner gather the right evidence to demonstrate to the court that:
- they have indeed been the child’s primary caregiver for the appropriate time period;
- that the child is sufficiently bonded with the petitioner; and
- that it is in the child’s best interest that the petitioner be awarded third part custody.
In most cases, the evidence to support these claims is in the form of everyday documentation like school and medical records, or through statements from relevant witnesses, like neighbors, teachers, coaches, or social workers.
Need Assistance with Third Party Custody in Indiana?
Legal matters relating to third party custody in Indiana can easily become both emotional and intense, especially those involving grandparents or close friends. To ensure an optimal outcome in matters like these, you’ll want to hire one of the best custody lawyers in Indianapolis, like those at Keffer Hirschauer LLP.
The child custody lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP are hands-on family law litigators who take your needs and wishes to heart. Our attorneys will vigorously fight for your custody rights and, ultimately, for what is truly in the best interest of the child.
By choosing Keffer Hirschauer LLP, you receive:
- Confidential case consultations
- Results-oriented legal representation
- Tailored solutions based on your needs and goals
- Advocacy from a lawyer who has been named as a Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers
To speak with a family law attorney today, call 317-751-7186 or schedule a free consultation by completing our online contact form. Our team is available to help assess the appropriateness of your request, draft and file your petition for third party custody, or defend against requests by the other custodians that seek to gain legal custody of your child.