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Courts may modify custody upon relocation

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Trial courts are not required to order a change in custody upon a parental relocation under a 2006 Indiana statute, the Indiana Supreme Court decided today. The high court ruled trial courts are allowed to modify custody arrangements at their own discretion.

In Valerie Raich Baxendale v. Samuel Raich, III, No. 64S05-0709-CV-372, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the Indiana Court of Appeals decision, finding the trial court's balancing of relevant considerations in granting physical custody of A.R. to Raich was not erroneous.

Baxendale and Raich, both of Valparaiso, had joint legal custody of A.R., with Baxendale retaining physical custody. Baxendale accepted a new job in Minneapolis and filed a notice of intent to relocate with A.R., who was 11 at the time; Raich responded with a petition for modification of custody. The trial court conducted a hearing in August 2006 and entered an order Sept. 1, 2006, denying Baxendale's request to relocate A.R. The trial court also ordered continued joint legal custody of the child and provided that Raich would be the physical custodial parent if Baxendale lived in Minnesota, but upon her return to Indiana, she would become the custodial parent.

Baxendale appealed, stating the trial court abused its discretion by modifying physical custody and by excluding unspecified evidence claimed to bear on Raich's use of drugs and alcohol, and the order violated her federal constitutional right to travel. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court regarding the modification of physical custody.

Justice Theodore Boehm wrote in today's opinion that the interplay of the 1985 section of Indiana statute dealing with relocation and a 2006 addition addressing relocation that replaced it provided an issue of first impression.

The 1985 provision was the first to specifically address relocation-based modifications. If a custodial parent intended to move either outside of Indiana or 100 miles away from his or her current residence, the custodial parent had to provide notice and either party could request the court to review and modify the custody order, "if appropriate," wrote Justice Boehm. The trial court was required to consider the hardship and expense for the non-custodial parent in regards to parenting time. In Lamb v. Wenning, 600 N.E.2d 96, 99 (Ind. 1992), the Court of Appeals ruled a custodial parent's relocation alone doesn't support a modification of custody, but the effect of the move on the child may support a modification.

The new chapter added in 2006 to the "Custody and Visitation Rights" of Indiana Code changed relocation to mean for at least a period of 60 days and no longer requires a move of 100 miles or out of state. Also, upon motion of either parent, the court must hold a hearing to review and modify custody, again, "if appropriate," wrote Justice Boehm. To decide when it is appropriate, the court has to consider factors specific to relocation.

The Supreme Court ruled that the 2006 update incorporates all Indiana Code requirements in 31-17-2-8, which states a custody order must be in accordance with the best interests of the child, does not require a change in one of the factors under this statute to allow a custody change after a relocation. The 2006 update appears to authorize the court to entertain a custody modification "in the event of a significant proposed relocation without regard to any change in the Section 8 factors," wrote Justice Boehm. Depending on the age of the child, and other factors, a move may or may not warrant a change of custody.

In this case, the majority of justices found modification is permissible because of major changes in A.R.'s interaction with his father, grandmother, and brother, and his adjustment to a new school and other activities. Justice Frank Sullivan dissented on this issue, believing the Court of Appeals ruling was correct.

The high court also addressed Baxendale's appeal that the trial court order violated her federal constitutional right to travel by forcing her to choose between staying in Indiana and retaining physical custody or relocating to Minnesota. Shapiro v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 651, 671, (1974), held that all citizens have the right to interstate travel, but no case has addressed the interaction between a parent's right to travel and a custody order. Justice Boehm wrote the Indiana Supreme Court agrees with courts that take Shapiro as recognizing that a chilling effect on travel can violate the Constitution but also that other considerations may outweigh a person's interest in travel. Baxendale retains significant involvement with A.R. in the new custody agreement, and A.R.'s interest in continuity of education and being in contact with other family members justified the trial court's custody order.
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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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