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Automatic modification violates custody statute, COA rules

January 27, 2014

A trial court’s order automatically awarding custody of a minor child to the father was reversed by the Indiana Court of Appeals on the grounds the lower court’s decision violated the state’s custody modification statute.

The Tippecanoe Circuit Court issued a provisional order that primary physical custody would be awarded to the father of the minor child, C.A., if the mother did not relocate to Indiana by March 31, 2013.

Mother and father met and had C.A. while in high school. The couple never married but successfully co-parented the child until the mother moved to South Carolina to complete a college degree. Father continued visiting C.A. and paying monthly child support.

The mother finished her degree and opted to remain in South Carolina. Finding that permanent relocation to South Carolina was not in C.A.’s best interest, the trial court ordered that if the mother did not move back to Indiana by March 31, 2013, the father would be awarded primary physical custody on April 1, 2013.

In In re the paternity of C.J.A.: G.C. (mother) v. T.A. (father), 79A02-1302-JP-137, the Court of Appeals reversed the order. The court ruled that the language ordering the change in custody be automatically modified was inconsistent with the requirements of the state’s custody modification statute, Indiana Code 31-14-13-6.

However, Judge Elaine Brown dissented, arguing the trial court’s order was not a final judgment and had not disposed of all claims. Therefore, the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction over this appeal and should have dismissed.

 

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