Special Circumstances in Indiana Child Custody

Special circumstances can affect the legal process and the outcome of your custody case. Family law experts recommend consulting an attorney if your case involves any of the following situations.

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Supervised parenting time and exchanges

When a parent's history includes crime, family abuse or neglect, the courts often require their interactions with the child to happen during supervised parenting time at a court-certified agency.

In some cases, a friend or family member can supervise visits. The court orders this when there's less risk to the child (e.g., if a parent abuses substances but has no history of crime, violence or neglect). The judge may allow one parent to choose the supervisor and location or require parents to agree on who supervises and where.

In supervised exchanges, just the child's drop-offs and pickups between parents are supervised — either at an agency or by a court-approved third party. Common in cases with domestic violence or those with a parallel parenting plan, supervised exchanges minimize or eliminate parents' in-person interactions.

When necessary, the court orders both supervised parenting time and exchanges.

Custody and visitation for third parties

In certain circumstances, the court may award legal and physical custody or visitation for a non-biological parent.

A de facto custodian is someone who has been the primary caretaker of a child under age three for at least six months, or a child over age three for at least one year. This includes providing both financial support and a home for the child. If a grandparent, stepparent or other individual meets these requirements, they can petition for custody as a de facto guardian.

Any adult who doesn't meet the de facto requirements can still petition for third-party custody, but they're less likely to receive it.

Any non-biological parent who seeks custody of a child must prove to the court that they are better able to meet the child's best interests and basic needs than the parents.

Grandparents can petition for visitation if one of the parents is deceased, if parents are divorced or if parents aren't married. (Paternity must be established if an unmarried father's parents are petitioning.)

If both parents agree to have their child spend time with a third party, they can include it in their parenting time schedule as part of a settlement agreement.

Custody evaluation

Judges order custody evaluations in high-conflict cases involving domestic violence, substance abuse and other issues that may put the child's safety at risk.

In an evaluation, a psychologist examines the mental health of the parents and child. They also interview others who know the family (relatives, teachers, etc.) and review the family's personal, medical and criminal records extensively.

Evaluations often take several weeks, and parents must pay the hourly fees set by the evaluator. (If parents agree to parenting coordination, the coordinator may conduct the evaluation.)

The evaluator writes a report that's sent to the judge and parents. It summarizes the information gathered (including the child's custody preferences, if reasonable) and gives recommendations for a parenting plan, parenting time schedule and, possibly, other requirements like counseling.

Judges give the recommendations significant weight when making their decisions.

Guardian ad litem

In disputed cases, the court may order a guardian ad litem (GAL), either of its own accord or at the request of someone involved in the case — like a parent, a third party seeking custody, the child, a custody evaluator or a mental health professional.

Often an attorney or social worker and always trained in child development and custody issues, a GAL is appointed to represent the child's interests independent of the parents'. The GAL can participate in court proceedings on behalf of the child and is present if the judge interviews the child.

Additionally, the GAL conducts an investigation similar to a custody evaluation, but without the mental health assessments. After reviewing relevant family records and interviewing the child, parents and others, the GAL prepares a report with custody and parenting time recommendations for the judge.

Judges don't automatically order the GAL's recommendations, but they generally give them great weight.

Protection from domestic violence (protective orders)

Victims of domestic violence should review the court's protective order information (which includes links to domestic violence organizations in each county), consult the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and, if possible, speak to an attorney. These resources can help you request a protective order (sometimes called a restraining order).

You can file for a protective order electronically. There's no filing fee, and after you submit your petition to the court, you may testify in front of a judge and get a decision on the request before the other parent is notified (called an ex parte hearing). However, the court may require a hearing with both parents before deciding whether or not to issue the protective order.

If a protective order is issued, or if domestic violence or child abuse are alleged, the court typically orders a custody evaluation or a GAL before deciding custody and parenting time. Most courts also make sure that the same judge who decides your protective order also decides your custody case.

When a case involves violence that may endanger the child, the judge is not required to follow the parenting time minimums dictated by the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.

History of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse or crime

If a parent has criminal convictions (including DUIs) or corroborated allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse issues or crime, the court presumes the other parent should have sole custody. This presumption can be overturned if the parent proves their behavior is in the past or is not detrimental to the child.

Undocumented parents

In Indiana, no law prevents undocumented parents from receiving legal custody or parenting time. At the same time, no law prevents a judge from considering a parent's immigration status in these decisions.

Before filing or responding to a case, undocumented parents should contact their local legal aid office or an immigration lawyer with experience in Indiana family law.

If a parent is detained or deported for immigration issues, they have the right to participate in the case remotely. They can use phone or video to participate in mediation, hearings and more.

Addressing special circumstances in a parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer or mediator is writing your parenting plan, share with them any circumstances it should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But it should use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want.

It's a sure way to get a plan that's tailored to your family and meets legal standards for formatting and language.

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