Thursday, February 4, 2010

General Assembly News: Joint Custody, Paternity

I received the following e-mail last week and finally got around to asking for permission to post this today (2/3/20010). I think this is well worth publicizing even if I have problems with this on a practical lawyer level. Here goes:

As many of you know, I have been active for about the last 20 years trying to ensure that, in Indiana, both parents of a child in a non-intact family (paternity or divorce) who desire to do so, and have no good reason to the contrary, have regular and continuing access to their child so that they can parent them: providing financial, physical, emotional and spiritual support.

I have recently been able to get a bill (SB0178) sponsored by Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) introduced that would give paternity (unmarried) dads joint legal custody and the statewide minimum parenting time (according to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines) upon BOTH the mother's and father's signature of a paternity affidavit, a document usually presented in the hospital to unwed parents upon the birth of their child.

Presently, when a dad signs such affidavit, the mom gets sole custody and he has no guarantee of ANY parenting time for his child. To get such time, he must file a motion with the court, wait (3-4 months) for a hearing date, suffer through numerous continuances (if the mother wants to delay proceedings) and pay various fees in order to get the court to order that he may see his own child. That resulting order is typically the minimum time any parent should have according to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines!

Naturally, the state is assisting mom with representation to make sure that child support is ordered and collected, but the same prosecutor who seeks the child support order CANNOT litigate custody or parenting time for the dad! The source of funds which pay for the prosecutor, Title IV-D, specifically forbids that activity. Note that the circumstances and background of the moms makes no difference on whether she gets sole custody of the child, at present, since there is NO hearing of any kind, no presentation of evidence, and no determination of "the best interests of the child" (the standard for divorcing couples) before such custody is granted to her!

If no paternity affidavit is signed, the mother gets sole custody of the child. This bill does not change that, but note that the mother now ALWAYS gets sole custody, regardless whether a paternity affidavit is or is not signed!!

Last Tuesday, we were able to get Senate Bill 0178 passed out of the Indiana Senate committee to which it was assigned for initial review. VERY shortly, it will be voted on by the 50 members of the Senate. There is a great deal of confusion about the bill, with some people thinking that this is a bill which will promote domestic violence (it has NO effect on any DV protections available to anyone), while others think that it will give unmarried fathers more rights than married fathers get. This is also untrue, as married fathers have joint legal custody until, like unmarried fathers would if this bill is enacted, there is a court order to the contrary.

The bill also permits paternity dads who are out of the country (i.e., military duty) to have up to 10 days to file a paternity affidavit before their child may be put up for adoption without their approval. Presently, they have only 72 hours after the birth of the child before their rights may be terminated and the child adopted. It can be very difficult to find out about the birth, get paperwork faxed both directions, and protect his rights in that little time!

I am posting a link below, and ask that you contact your own state senator and ask them to support Senate Bill 0178. Each senator has an email account available at this link. Please let them know that you are one of their constituents, and that you want them to support this bill.

The link for email is:

Again, at this time I am most interested in getting Senators contacted. If it passes the Senate, then we will undertake an effort to get it though the Indiana House of Representatives. Historically, the House has been more favorable to this type of legislation than has the Senate, thus the extra effort I am requesting via this message.


Please let me know of your senator's commitment or refusal to vote for this bill so that I can track those commitments. Feel free to simply forward their response to you to the above email address, if you wish.

I have never before solicited my friends and business associates before to ask for help like this, but it is the first time we've ever been able to get such a bill this far through the process. I thank you in advance for your help.

Bob Monday

Indiana State Coordinator

The Children's Rights Council

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