Articles Posted in Custody


Attorney Lanae Harden discusses best practices in Indiana in regards handling child custody and parenting time for the holidays.

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines specifically set out the holiday schedule for divorced parents. However, most court orders provide that the holiday schedule shall be as agreed upon by the parties, and in the event of disagreement, the Guidelines control. For example, the custodial parent receives Thanksgiving on odd years with the non-custodial parent receiving Thanksgiving on even years. Often, parents voluntarily agree that instead of having the child entirely one year and not the next, that each parent will have the opportunity to see the child over the Thanksgiving holiday.

It can be very difficult for kids the first major holiday after a divorce. Parents should do their best to split up the holidays in a manner which will be as least disruptive as possible for the child. Unfortunately, sometimes this is not possible because both extended families may celebrate the particular holiday at the same time. Hopefully, grandparents will understand that they, too, need to be flexible so that arrangements can be made for the child to enjoy celebrations with each side of the family.

The recent media coverage regarding the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes has brought to light custody issues that many parents may not be aware of: Spiritual Custody.  Spiritual custody comes into play when divorcing parents cannot come to an agreement about the religious upbringing of their children.  Typically, these disputes come from interfaith marriages that have ended up as interfaith divorces.

This creates a difficult situation for the courts and legal professionals, not to mention the children that are caught in the middle of such disputes.  In our system of government it is required to separate church and state. The courts cannot determine the one true path to God or even godlessness.  The courts are then left with determining what is “in the best interest of the children”.

Carmel divorce attorney, Clarissa Finnell, explains more about case law in Indiana concerning spiritual custody.  “Typically, a judge will look at the parent’s spiritual/religious practices in regards to their children prior to the divorce and keep the agreement similar to their previous arrangements.”  For example, if one parent was Catholic and the other Jewish, and the children had been attending a synagogue while the parents were married, a judge would usually rule for the children to continue that practice.  Finnell goes on to say, “Most interfaith parents have already decided how they are going to raise their children, in regards to theology, such as which holidays they will celebrate and where they will worship.  A judge wouldn’t rule to change those practices just because the couple is divorcing.”

Are you aware of the upcoming changes in Indiana child support statutes that may affect child support payments and your child’s eligibility for educational support?  Effective July 1, 2012, Indiana Parenting Guidelines (Public Law 111-2012) will change a child’s presumptive age for termination of child support from twenty-one to nineteen.  The law also amends the time frame in which a child may seek educational support, affecting children in the 18-21 age range who may need educational support or may soon lose their eligibility for support.  Parents with previous support orders may want to revisit the issue if the order does not explicitly refer to “educational support.”

All parents should consider seeking legal advice prior to terminating their support obligations when their child turns nineteen.  Although many parents’ duties to pay child support will end when their child turns nineteen, a parent who fails to pay support that is owed risks a finding of contempt and possible criminal sanctions.  Also, if you have additional children subject to a child support order, you will likely need to modify your child support obligation upon the emancipation of your nineteen year old.

Our firm is committed to providing clients with personalized service and updating parents on changes in Indiana law that may affect their interests and their children.  We encourage parents who believe that their child may be affected to contact counsel and assess whether action is necessary before Public Law 111-2012 becomes effective July 1, 2012.

As the school year comes to an end, parents are scheduling camps, vacations and other activities for their children.  Of course, this also means that the summer visitation requirements must be addressed for divorced families.  Family law attorney, Lanae Harden, gives tips on how to ensure a smooth summer for both the parents and children involved.

  1. If you don’t have a detailed parenting visitation schedule, create one.  This may be difficult for former spouses to come to an agreement.  If you are unable to come up with a mutually agreeable schedule, consult a professional to aid with this.  The more detailed your agreement is, the less room for interpretation, therefore less conflict.
  2. Recognize the emotional impact this may have on the children.   A significant change in schedule can bring up emotions for the children.  This could be positive or negative emotions, but usually a mixture of both.  Children thrive on routine, and summer visitation schedules usually vary significantly from the routines that the children became accustomed to during the school year.  Depending on the ages of the children, explain to them the exact schedule and where they will be at any given time.  Create a calendar with color coded days signifying when they will be at mom’s house and when they will be at dad’s house.

Attorney Lanae Harden, who chairs Harden Jackson’s Family Law Practice Group, advises those parents who are considering relocating and how to ensure you are abiding by the state statute.

Job losses and the housing market decline during this economic recession have forced many people to relocate in order to downsize their residences or to pursue new job opportunities. A move may also occur following a divorce, especially if one of the former spouses had temporary living arrangements while the sale of the marital home was pending, or subsequently as the result of remarriage.

Divorce and relocation are two of the most stressful changes in an adult’s life. Numerous details and tasks must be managed and completed. When children are involved, the focus is usually whether the change will affect their friends or which school they attend. What many parents do not realize is that their move may violate a state statute. Pursuant to Indiana law, a relocating individual must file detailed written notice of their intent to move with the clerk of the court that issued a custody or parenting time order. The notice is required well in advance of a move, and applies regardless of whether the move is across the street, across town or to a different state. Many parents have been caught by surprise by the relatively new relocation statute (particularly those who divorced prior to its adoption), and have found themselves unwittingly in violation of such.

Communicating with your former (or soon-to be former) spouse can be difficult.  Emotions and disputes often make civil conversations difficult.  However, it’s easier than ever to communicate without ever even speaking.  Between email, social media and texting, we can now have a relationship or dialogue with pretty much anyone and never have to see them in person.  On the reverse side of that, emails, social media and texts can be used to enhance or detract from your case in a divorce or custody battle.

Attorney Clarissa Finnell, a seasoned attorney who practices exclusively in the area of family law, explains that using media as a tool has become prevalent in her family law cases.  Finnell explains, “Often times, a client comes in with emails or text messages to be submitted to the court to prove the spouse participating in inappropriate behavior, infidelity etc.”  However, Finnell also warns that this very same documentation can also be used against the client.  Finnell gives several tips on how to use technology in your favor for your divorce or custody dispute.

  • Limit communication. Do not engage in or reply to any other communication unless it’s directly related to the children.  Communication should be limited to information about children’s well-being, parenting time, education etc.  This includes texts, emails and online private messages.

This week, we learned of a tragic story out of Utah.  Josh Powell, the husband of a missing Utah woman, killed his two sons and himself in an intentional house fire. This horrific act brings up questions about what could have been done to protect these children and the countless others who are caught in a child custody battle.

Powell, who was a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, had lost custody of his sons, yet they were still at his home when he took their lives. Custody in Powell’s case was handled much like many cases – the goal was to remedy the situation that caused the loss of custody while maintaining the relationship of the father and sons. Powell lost custody after his father, Steven Powell, who they were living with, was arrested on child pornography charges in September, police said. Powell had been granted visits with his sons twice per week in his home.

Attorney, Lanae Harden, who chairs the Family Law Practice Group at HARDEN JACKSON, LLC, and has over 15 years experience with Child Custody cases commented that while this situation is very tragic, it is unlikely that a court could have ever predicted something like this. “Unless the child appears in immediate danger and/or the parent has a history of violence, it is very unlikely that a court would not allow the children to have visitation with the parent in their home.” Harden goes on to say “Child custody laws are designed for ‘the best interest of the child’, and typically this means that children should spend time with their parents.”

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