It will go a long way in paving the way and shortening the duration of custody hearings if parents can come to an amicable agreement regarding living arrangements and visitation rights ahead of time and put it in writing.
However, no matter how much separating or divorcing parents may agree on the particulars of custody, child support, and living arrangements, the judge will evaluate them in light of the factors he sees as relevant to the child’s emotional and mental health. This is because in New Albany Indiana, as in the rest of the country, it all comes down to what the judge determines is best for the child(ren). He will listen to the parents, and in some cases, various professionals but his court order or written decree will be based on the child’s best interests.
A Child’s Best Interest
While this is a general term you may hear bandied about in general conversation, a child’s best interests takes on a specific meaning in custody hearings where it refers to the judges’ deliberations in deciding not only which parent is better suited to care for the child but also whether interventional or counseling services are called for.
This term is not limited to child custody hearings occasioned by divorce or separation but is also used in placement hearings, termination of parental rights cases, and safety and permanency planning. And in all these deliberations the judge will base his placement decision on a number of factors including
- The emotional ties between child and parents.
- The child’s physical and mental health needs
- The child’s ability to adjust to different environments, schools, and communities
- The parent’s physical and mental health
- Any history of physical violence or abuse in the home
The Attitude of the Parent
Since the purpose of the custody hearing is to make sure as much as possible that the parent to whom custody is granted will be able to satisfy the child’s continuing needs beyond immediate food, shelter, and medical needs, the judge will take into account other aspects of the parent that will be important throughout the years. These include:
- Ability to provide financially for the child and maintain his or her well-being
- Willingness to invest in and support an optimal education that makes the most of the child’s capacities and talents.
- Willingness to provide for whatever medical needs may arise
- Willingness to cooperate and communicate with the non-custodial parent
- Willingness to fulfill all the conditions mandated by the court in the custody agreement
Judges are well aware that in awarding custody, they are impacting and changing the lives of all involved. Since the process requires them to sort through a host of complicated yet relevant factors, many will allow expert opinions and evaluations such as those of child psychologists social workers, social services evaluators, or in some cases court-appointed guardians to be entered into the hearings.
The Child’s Opinion
In many cases, a judge will consider the child’s preference as to which parent he or she will live with. More weight will be given to those who are older and more mature. Indiana views14 as an age at which the child has the capacity to make such a choice. But in the end, it’s an amalgam of maturity, physical and emotional needs, and home conditions that decide if their preference will be granted or at least considered.
First and foremost is the child’s safety while in the custodial home. So any history of domestic violence will rule that parent out. It can also result in the order that all parental visits must be supervised.
In the case where there are several children in the family, siblings will be, if at all possible, kept together. However, if after careful consideration of all the above factors, the judge determines that placing one of them with one parent would be in the child’s best interest, the siblings may be split up.
Types of Custody
All of the above will help the judge arrive at his final decision whether to award legal custody, physical custody, shared or sole custody. These terms can be confusing and to compound the confusion they can be layered. The state of Indiana views each as follows.
If a parent is granted physical custody, the child lives in that parent’s home where he receives day-to-day care such as meals, baths, a bed, transportation to school, and social activities. Parents in Indiana are not viewed through a gender lens so absenting other incriminating factors, a mother and father start out on an equal footing.
If a parent is granted legal custody, he or she has the right to make decisions on important matters such as
- The religion in which the child will be brought up.
- The cultural conditions the child will be exposed to
- Decisions that impact health and wellness
If a dispute arises between the parents, they can enlist the aid of trusted child custody lawyers for help in resolving the issue, and if they cannot reach an agreement take the matter up in court.
Sole custody falls under the heading of physical custody. And as the name suggests, unlike joint custody it simply means the child will live in his or her home with the non-custodial parent having a court-appointed visiting schedule. This schedule can involve the child spending the day, the weekend, or in some cases a vacation trip with that parent. However, the schedule of visiting times should be consistent with Indiana guidelines.
Joint custody is the other type of physical custody. When parents share joint custody, the child divides his living between the two parents’ homes in a schedule agreed upon in court. While joint custody provides the child with the benefit of a consistent and ongoing relationship with both parents, geography also plays a major role in joint custody being awarded since the child’s psychological well-being depends on both homes being within reasonable proximity to each other so she or she can attend the same school and take part in activities with friends.
Possibility of Future Arrangements
Since life is unpredictable, changes can arise in anyone’s life. An employer can transfer one parent to a location in another city, A remarriage can necessitate a move out of state. In cases like these, family law or child custody lawyers can file a motion with the court that the parenting time schedule be modified. If the judge considers the change to be purely for the parent’s personal gain, he or she will most likely deny it. However, if it is judged to be in keeping with the child’s best interests, it will be granted – for as in everything else custody-related the child’s best interests rule.