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Custody in Indiana: What does it mean?

By: Silvia B. Miller

Custody in Indiana can be a confusing topic.  Many parents state that they want “FULL CUSTODY.” But, what does that really mean?  It is important to know what kind of custody you want the court to award. In Indiana there are two types of custody for children under the age of 19. The first is legal custody and the second is physical custody.

Legal custody is about decision making.  Joint legal custody works when parents have a good stream of communication and/or can prioritize the well-being of their child above any other issues. Joint legal custody requires parents to communicate with each other on these major decision areas of these child’s life; mainly the parents must attempt agree in the areas of religion, education, and healthcare. In an ideal world these are decisions that parents make together. However, when going through a divorce or custody battle, it is easy to lose sight of the larger issues for some of the smaller issues that may appear on day to day basis.  Joint legal custody is not a vehicle for one parent to control the other’s decision making or ability to provide for their child, it is not an excuse for parents to ask for “permission” to do or not do something that would benefit their child.  If you are a parent who is being ignored or if your decisions are not taken into consideration, you need to talk to your attorney.  If you are a parent who reaches out to the other parent repeatedly and does not receive a response, you need to talk to your attorney.  If you and the other parent cannot agree, you need to talk to your attorney.  These are all situations that can be presented to a Court for hearing.

Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines and most courts in the state of Indiana want parents to be involved in the lives of their child and failing to provide timely information to the other parent is not considered to be in the best interest of the child. Always keeping the best interest of the child and the forefront of one’s mind is the best way to approach the issue of joint legal custody among parents.

Physical Custody is simply where does the child sleep at night? Where does the child spend most of his or her time? Where parents have agreed to share physical custody, 50/50, one parent will have 183 overnights with the child, the other parent will have 182. That is the simple reality of a year with 365 days.  The designation of primary physical custodian goes to the parent with the most overnights.  The other parent is therefore designated as the non-custodial parent.  This designation does not mean that the non-custodial parent has any less rights or any fewer rights than the primary physical custodian. This simply means that the child spends less overnights with one parent than the other.  These designations are important because the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines are crafted with these terms.  When parents cannot agree, they refer to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines to resolve disputes; knowing the custodial designation is important to navigate through the Guidelines.

Joint legal custody and joint physical custody are important decisions that should be discussed with your attorney before you enter into an agreement of any kind.  Please contact Allen Wellman Harvey Keyes Cooley, LLP, for a consult with one of our Family Law practitioners.