In many ways, child custody issues are unlike other issues you will face in divorce. You may have a difficult time when you are trying to resolve property division questions, but the answers to those questions don’t necessarily affect anyone but you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. And once you have reached a resolution, it’s probably the last you’ll have to think about the subject.
That isn’t the case at all with child custody matters. The way you resolve these issues will have important consequences for your child and your relationship with them. What’s more, you will most likely have to continue to work with the other parent for years to come to coordinate handovers, vacation times, medical appointments and many of the other logistics and decisions of parenthood.
If you are just beginning the process of deciding child custody matters, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. In this blog post, we’ll try to provide some information that will help you get started.
Indiana spells out many of the principles behind the state’s child custody laws in the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.
First off, note that Indiana courts decide child custody matters based on their understanding of what is in the best interests of the child. As the guidelines make clear, Indiana law presumes that it is in the best interests of the child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
This presumption affects even the terminology the state uses, Indiana uses the term “parenting time” where many other states use the term “visitation” because state law emphasizes the idea that both parents should be actively engaged in raising their child even when they don’t live with them full-time.
Note that this is a presumption. That means that there are cases in which one parent can rebut the presumption. For instance, in cases where one parent has been abusive, the other parent may petition the court to limit or even cut off the other parent’s parenting time.
Along with this emphasis on parenting time comes the need for a parenting plan. The parents must work out a plan for how they will share their parenting time and duties.
Included in the parenting plan are a schedule for who will have physical custody of the child at what times. Depending on the circumstances, it may provide general guidelines or go into great detail about how the parents will communicate with each other and how they will co-ordinate pickups and drop-offs.
It’s also a good idea for a parenting plan to address how the parents will resolve any disputes when they arise. The state guidelines encourage parents to resolve parenting time issues themselves without going to court, if necessary. Courts also encourage parents to use mediation to resolve disputes rather than going through courtroom litigation.
Of course, there are some cases in which the parents simply cannot resolve things on their own and may need the court to render a decision.
None of this is easy. It’s good to know that you don’t have to go through it all alone. Legal professionals can help.