Indiana has instituted very specific child custody laws and guidelines to help shield children from parental conflict. Consequently, parents must follow certain procedures to modify a visitation schedule and merely writing to the court is not sufficient. You and your ex may adopt any visitation schedule you both agree to, but to have the schedule legally recognized and enforceable, the judge must issue a new visitation order.
Types of Custody
In Indiana, a custody agreement must address two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody governs who the child lives with. Joint physical custody means the child splits time between both parents, and sole physical custody means that one parent provides the child's primary residence. In nearly all cases in which the court grants sole physical custody, visitation -- legally referred to as "parenting time" -- is given to the non-custodial parent. Legal custody addresses decision-making authority over the child. Indiana has a strong presumption in favor of joint legal custody.
Child's Best Interests
Indiana, like all states, uses the best interests of the child standard to determine custody and visitation arrangements. Unlike many states, however, Indiana has implemented very specific custody guidelines to aid judges in making decisions. When both parents have provided regular care to the child, judges are encouraged to grant some form of joint physical custody that works with the child's and parents' needs and schedules. When only one parent is the primary caretaker, judges must order a visitation schedule that preserves the child's relationship with the secondary caregiver. Judges are encouraged to give very young children frequent, rather than extended, contact with their non-custodial parent so that babies might see their non-custodial parent several times a week.
Parents may modify a visitation schedule by submitting a motion to the court and signing a consent agreement. In most cases, a judge will sign an order granting the change. If one parent wants a change in visitation, he must demonstrate the change is in the child's best interests and submit a petition for visitation change to the court that issued the original custody order. The burden of proof for demonstrating the change is in the child's best interests lies with the parent who requests the change. Parents seeking visitation changes will be more likely to win if they can demonstrate a change in the child's circumstances. These changes might include a parent's new job, a change in one parent's parenting skills, a developmental change in the child or an alteration in the child's relationship with one parent. State law requires that all custody motions have a parenting plan attached that itemizes the specific visitation and custody schedule requested. You can write your own parenting plan or obtain a blank one from the clerk of court and adjust it to your circumstances.
In some custody cases, particularly highly contentious ones, judges appoint child experts to advise the court. Indiana allows judges to appoint guardians ad litem to advocate for the child's best interests; judges may also appoint psychologists to advise about the psychological ramifications of custody arrangements. If there was a child expert in your initial custody proceeding, you may want to contact this expert before seeking a change in visitation. When a child expert recommends a change in visitation, judges are more likely to order the change.
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