Monday, May 21, 2007

Custody case for today

I am working my way through the Indiana Court of Appeals' decision in Lisa A. Tompa v. Edward S. Tompa. So far, it has one odd feature and too much that is too familiar. The decision came down on May 17.

The odd feature consists of a panel of psychologists agreed upon by the parties to make recommendations on parenting time and custody. I am unaware of such a thing. Considering what I would think the cost would be, this is not an innovation we will see very often.

The panel made its recommendation and then the case began to fell apart. Allegations had been made against the father. Originally, the parties had joint custody with Mother getting physical custody but appears to have been unsatisfied by the orders on visitation. She also sued one of the panel members. Father files for sole custody. The trial court modified custody and adopted the panel's recommendation for equal parenting time.

The following paragraph contains what I think is the key point for the case:

Although we agree with Lisa that no fundamental differences in child rearing philosophies, religious beliefs, or lifestyles appear to exist between the parents, careful scrutiny of the record leads us to believe that child rearing has nevertheless become a battleground. The record is saturated with evidence documenting the tensions, lack of communication, and lack of cooperation associated with the Tompas’ joint legal custody arrangement.
I italicized that part of the paragraph. The sentence's beginning defines some of the requirements of joint custody but the part emphasized is what I consider the essential requirement for joint custody. The children must come first, but that is true in all custody cases. With joint custody, the parents must cooperate fully for all the years after the marriage ended until the child's emancipation. That asks a lot of people. My experience does not favor joint custody for I seldom see joint custody having any successes.

As this opinion says, joint custody ought not be used to placate parents. Too often this is true. I have seen fathers browbeating mothers into joint custody so as to avoid a custody fight. Instead of a custody fight at the divorce or paternity hearing, the parties postpone the fight. Some father think that sole custody demeans them. That they will not be involved in their children's life as much as the father's want. Indiana's Parenting Time Guidelines provide for more than just visitation but for a fuller involvement of the non-custodial parent than once was available to the non-custodial parent. Other think joint custody means no child support. Only when the parent have equal time with the child will there be no child support order.

Before asking for joint custody, the potentially non-custodial parent needs to ask if he wants joint custody for himself or because it is in the child's best interests. The potentially custodial needs to ask if joint custody is best for the child or if the parent is just avoiding confrontation with the other parent.

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