Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Benefit of Reaching an Agreement on Custody

There are two aspects to child custody.  The first is legal.  Legal custody refers to the ability to have input on medical, educational, and religious issues pertaining to a child’s upbringing.  Joint legal custody is appropriate in most cases unless there is a significant breakdown in communication between the parties.  Generally, as long as the parents are able to communicate and cooperate with one another on decisions involving the child(ren) without a high level of conflict, joint legal custody will be ordered and the parents are required to consult one another before making any of these “major decisions.”

The second aspect of custody is physical custody, which is much more often the subject of dispute.  Simply stated, physical custody refers to where the children spend their time.  As an initial matter, parents may create a unique schedule which satisfies the needs of their children and each other.  Often, however, developing a parenting time schedule can be very challenging. When parties are unable to agree, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines provide a parenting time schedule that gradually increases as the children age, provides for a division of holidays, and time with the children should one parent live a significant distance from the children’s primary residence.   It should be noted, though, that the Guidelines represent a minimum amount of reasonable parenting time to be afforded to the non-custodial parent.  Many Indiana Courts commonly award an involved, non-custodial parent parenting time in excess of the schedule provided in the Guidelines.

People often feel the need to “have their day in court,” believing that if the judge hears “their side of the story” the custody order will be in their favor. However, in evaluating whether to ask a judge to make a ruling on custody and parenting time, the parties would be well advised to keep in mind that time in court is limited, and it is difficult to present all of the information believed to be important. This is not to say that such conflicts which arise should not be litigated.  However, once you proceed to court, the final decision is out of your hands. 

If parties are unable to reach an agreement, Indiana Courts will focus on the “best interest of the children” and in doing so will consider a number of factors in determining an appropriate custodial and parenting time arrangement.  These factors include, but are not limited to, which parent has served as the primary caregiver; the child’s age and sex; the wishes of the child and the parties; the child’s relationship with each parent, siblings, and others; the child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community; and the mental and physical health of all involved.

There are a number of benefits to reaching an out-of-court agreement, including but not limited to, allowance for non-traditional work schedules and flexibility for holidays.  When parties are able to communicate and cooperate on these matters, it is a win-win for all involved.

Hollingsworth & Zivitz, P.C.,  has the experience, the understanding, and the compassion to assist with your family law needs. If you have questions or concerns regarding divorce, custody, support, or any other family law concerns contact our firm at 317-DIVORCE or  visit our website at

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