Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Defining Joint Custody in Indiana

The following comes from Arms v. Arms, a 2004 Court of Appeals opinion.

I am hacking out the statements of law from discussions of the facts/evidence. I think this might make it easier reading for non-lawyers while it may raise the hackles of lawyers (I know I find breaking it down like this a bit strange). As I am working from a HTML version of the opinion, there are no page citations. :

In making the determination of whether joint custody is appropriate, courts are guided by the principle that parents should not be permitted to maintain joint legal custody over their children if they cannot work and communicate together to raise the children. I.C. § 31-17-2-15(2) (West 1998); Carmichael v. Siegel, 754 N.E.2d 619 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001). Thus, in determining whether joint legal custody is appropriate, courts examine whether the parents have the ability to work together for the best interests of their children. Carmichael v. Siegel, 754 N.E.2d 619....


.... In a joint custody arrangement, the parents share the “authority and responsibility for the major decisions concerning the child’s upbringing, including the child’s education, health care, and religious training.” Ind. Code Ann. § 31-1-11.5-21(f) (West 1998). Under such an arrangement, it is critically important that the parents demonstrate the ability to work together for a common purpose, i.e., the child’s best interests...
I added the links to the statutes which are not in the original document. For non-lawyers, understand that there is here an interplay between statute, case law, and the facts.

Bottom line requirement for joint custody: that the parties can work together for child's benefit.

That fits nicely into a definition of joint custody: shared authority and responsibility for making decisions about the child's care. Notice that does not include sharing physical custody of the child. See IC 31-17-2-14

In this case, the Court of Appeals uphold modifying a joint custody order to sole custody in the father. In the following the opinion discusses the facts of the case. I think they are clear enough not to need any commentary.
Father produced substantial evidence that the acrimonious relationship between him and Mother rendered it impossible for the pair to work together toward a common goal. To review some of that evidence, Mother filed several allegations of abuse against Father. Subsequent investigations by the authorities failed to substantiate the allegations, and even caused authorities to question whether Mother was exerting a positive influence in E.A.’s life. There was evidence that Mother coached E.A., against his will, to say bad things about Father and Vicki and to call them derogatory names. Father also detailed several examples of Mother’s unwillingness or inability to abide by the terms of the then-existing custody and visitation orders with respect to meeting with Father or Vicki to drop off or pick up E.A. Also, we note that there was evidence that Mother instigated a physical altercation with Vicki at Father’s home. We need not detail the rest of the evidence in this regard. The foregoing is sufficient to demonstrate that the Mother and Father were incapable of working together well enough to make a joint custody arrangement plausible.

This evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s findings that Mother and Father were unable to effectively communicate with each other, and that they are unable to jointly make decisions concerning E.A. In turn, those findings support the judgment terminating joint legal custody as untenable. See Albright v. Bogue, 736 N.E.2d 782. The same evidence supports a conclusion that Father, and not Mother, should be given the sole legal custody of E.A.

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