Filing for Child Custody in Indiana: 4 Steps to Open a Case

The process for obtaining orders for legal custody and parenting time officially begins when a parent files (opens) a case.

Before filing, consider your options for getting orders.

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If you have a lawyer, they'll prepare and file your court forms for you. If you're representing yourself, follow the steps below to open a case, keeping in mind that your county may have additional requirements.

The parent who opens the case is referred to as the petitioner, and the other parent as the respondent. Both may be referred to as litigants.

Step 1: Determine your case type

Married parents can file for divorce or legal separation. (Both result in a parenting plan and a child support order.) At least one spouse must have lived in Indiana for six months, and at least one must have lived in the county where the case is filed for three months.

Unmarried parents can file for a parenting plan and child support, as well as paternity testing if necessary. There's no minimum residency requirement when parents aren't married.

Step 2: Complete forms

You can download the forms to open your case from the Indiana Legal Help website.

If you're separating or need to get a court order for paternity testing, check with your court for their paperwork.

Unmarried parents who don't already have a child support order can also submit child support forms. (Child support is included in divorce cases.)

Parents can also complete motions for temporary orders at this time if they can't agree how to co-parent for the duration of the case.

Your signatures must be notarized, so don't sign any forms until you're with a notary public or the court clerk.

Your court may require additional paperwork — be sure to check your court's rules.

Step 3: Submit forms and pay filing fees

To officially open your case, submit your forms to your county's Circuit Court or Superior Court (whichever handles civil cases in your county). You can submit paper documents in person to the court clerk, but most counties prefer self-representing litigants to file electronically (called e-filing).

You can submit your forms electronically using any of Indiana's e-filing providers. Be sure to consult Indiana's E-filing User Guide.

Filing fees vary by county and case. Expect to pay between $130 and $200 when you file. Your county may have additional costs, including fees for motions (e.g., a request for temporary orders), notary services and making copies.

If you can't afford this, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. Submit the request along with your other paperwork.

Step 4: Serve papers

You are required to formally notify the other parent about the case by having copies of your filing paperwork delivered to them. You can't personally deliver the papers to the other parent — they must be served by certified mail or in person by a sheriff or private server.

In some counties, the court clerk may handle service for you, for an additional fee.

If you electronically file your case, you can also e-serve the other parent (if they agree to receive documents electronically). Refer to the e-filing user guide above.

Preparing for what comes next

Whether you're moving on to a settlement or to preparations for a final custody hearing, take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom parenting calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more. You can use it to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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