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COA: Court must hold another hearing on custody

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A trial court may refuse to approve a settlement agreement entered into by parents regarding custody of minor children, the Indiana Court of Appeals pointed out Tuesday, but in this case, the court erred by not granting the father’s motion for a continuance regarding his mental health evaluation.

The judges ordered a new hearing on custody of M.S., the daughter of Kevin and Jennifer Stone. The two entered into a settlement agreement regarding custody and division of marital property and asked the court to approve it. But the judge decided not to approve the portion regarding custody, citing concerns about Kevin Stone’s mental health. He made threats to Jennifer Stone after the divorce was filed and communicated with her family, her neighbors and M.S.’s teacher that Jennifer Stone was a fraud, thief and liar. He also refused to communicate with her unless through their child.

Kevin Stone sought three continuances of the hearing on the custody issue so he could hire counsel and obtain a mental health evaluation that the judge ordered. But the judge denied his motions and ruled that Jennifer Stone should have sole custody of M.S., with Kevin Stone having supervised parenting time. The judge noted that she would consider the results of the evaluation at a later hearing. The evaluation found no reason that Kevin Stone shouldn’t have some custody of his child.

In Kevin C. Stone v. Jennifer M. Stone, 49A02-1210-DR-820, the Court of Appeals affirmed that the trial judge could reject the parties’ settlement agreement regarding child custody. The judges pointed to statements made by Kevin Stone that he gave up the marital residence so that he could have joint legal and physical custody of M.S. This is why courts must review agreements on child custody, to ensure children aren’t being used as bargaining chips, Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

“If a party is having second thoughts about the propriety of a child custody agreement, we do not see why a trial court should be prohibited from taking such reluctance into consideration when deciding how thoroughly to examine whether the agreement suits the child’s best interests, which is the ‘overriding’ concern in any dissolution where children are involved — a concern that trumps the interest in promoting the settlement of disputes,” he wrote.

But the judge abused her discretion in denying the continuance relating to Kevin Stone’s mental health evaluation. The judge had concerns about his mental health regarding custody and there was no evidence or testimony to support the findings made by the judge. A continuance wouldn’t prejudice Jennifer Stone, so the judges ordered a new hearing on custody.

The COA also reversed the portion of the order that Kevin Stone pay $5,000 in attorney fees to Jennifer Stone.
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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