Indiana Final Custody Hearing (Trial)

Indiana courts prefer — and custody experts recommend — that parents settle their case with an agreement they create together. When parents can't agree, a judge decides custody in a final custody hearing (sometimes called a trial).

In a final custody hearing, each parent argues for the parenting plan, parenting time schedule and child support arrangement they want. The judge's decisions become final orders that both parents must follow.

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A custody hearing can take a year or more to prepare for, while the hearing itself might take only a few hours or days.

Before you can ask for a final custody hearing, your court will likely require you to attempt mediation during the litigation process (unless your case involves domestic violence). You might also consider collaborative law or parenting coordination to help you reach a settlement agreement and avoid leaving custody up to a judge.

What happens at a final custody hearing

Each parent can make an opening statement, where they preview their case. Then each parent presents evidence, which can include questioning witnesses and testifying themself (more below). Parents can challenge each other's evidence and question each other's witnesses.

If you have a lawyer, they'll do all of this and all of the preparation for you (except testifying). If you're representing yourself, you'll do it all on your own. If your case has a guardian ad litem (GAL), they'll present evidence and question witnesses on the child's behalf. (The GAL represents the child's best interests, not either parent.)

If your child is mature enough, understands the situation and wants to share a custody preference with the court, the judge will consider their wishes, giving more weight to opinions of children 14 and older.

Children don't testify in open court in a custody hearing — instead, the judge might interview them privately with a court reporter present. Parents' lawyers may be allowed to observe, depending on the judge. If your case has a custody evaluation or investigation, your child's preference and an assessment of their maturity is included in the report for the judge.

The judge considers a child's preference along with all of the evidence and parents' arguments, making their final decisions based on the child's best interests.

The judge may immediately announce their decisions following the final custody hearing or take a break (for a few hours or even days) to further consider the evidence.

Preparing for a final hearing

If you're representing yourself, be sure to familiarize yourself with your court's rules and how Indiana judges decide what's in a child's best interests. Check out Indiana's resources for self-represented parents and contact your court clerk with questions about the process.

If you have a lawyer, be sure to respond promptly to their requests and listen to their advice. Always be honest with them so they can best represent you.

Preparing evidence

The specific evidence you need depends on your case, but generally, it should show how you meet your child's specific needs and support their best interests. You may need to prove your claims about the other parent, disprove claims they make about you, or challenge the report from a custody evaluation or guardian ad litem.

Common evidence includes photos, emails, text messages, social media posts, family calendars and official records (medical, school, criminal, etc.). These are called exhibits.

Witness testimony is also common evidence. Non-expert witnesses (called lay witnesses) know the family personally and testify in court or through character reference letters to what they've observed. These witnesses often include relatives, family friends, child care providers, parents' therapists and doctors, etc. Parents can also give their own testimony as witnesses.

Some parents also choose to hire expert witnesses, such as child development specialists, to offer professional opinions.


Discovery is the multi-part process of sharing information and evidence with the other parent so each side can prepare their case. Through court filings, parents request documents and other information from each other.

Requests for production of documents require parents to share their financial and other records. Parents might also request documents from relevant third-parties (employers, banks, doctors, etc.).

Parents can also send interrogatories, which are questions that must be answered in writing and notarized. Interrogatories for custody typically include questions about child-rearing differences and parenting time.

Some parents also send requests for admission, which are statements the other parent must respond to in writing. For example, a parent might say, "On March 1, 2020, you withdrew $900 from our joint savings account." The receiving parent must admit, deny or object. If they don't respond within 30 days, the court assumes they admit to everything.

In depositions, parents or their lawyers question each other's witnesses under oath for the court record.

Failure to comply with discovery requests delays the case and can be considered contempt of court.

Hearing tips

  • Ask the court clerk about your court's procedures.
  • Observe a hearing with your judge, if possible.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Arrive early to find parking, go through security and locate the courtroom.
  • Only bring your children if they're being interviewed that day.
  • Friends and family who aren't testifying can attend, but don't bring new romantic partners.
  • Refer to the judge as "Your Honor."
  • Show respect to everyone, and never interrupt.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand something.
  • When speaking, take your time, but don't ramble or go off topic.
  • Answer questions directly, and only provide explanations when prompted.
  • Don't lie or provide misleading information.

Using technology for your final custody hearing

Final custody hearings require serious organization.

You may need to propose parenting time schedules, suggest a parenting plan, show messages from the other parent and more.

The Custody X Change online app lets you create and manage all of these elements in one place. With customizable visitation calendars, a parenting plan template, printable parent-to-parent messaging and beyond, it helps you prepare for every step of your case.

Take advantage of custody technology to get what's best for your children.

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