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Court remands custody case for new hearing

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Although all three Indiana Court of Appeals judges came to conclusion that the trial court should revisit its order to grant full custody of a child to her abusive father, the judges differed as how the trial court should have approached the matter.

In Anita (Handy) Oberlander v. Kevin Handy, No. 08A04-0903-CV-121, Anita Oberlander and Kevin Handy had a tumultuous and violent relationship which led to Oberlander relocating to South Carolina with her four children, one of which was Handy's daughter. After only three months of marriage, Oberlander filed for divorce and sought a protection order.

Before their final hearing, Handy's visitation with his daughter from another marriage was halted because of his behavior. He also continued to contact Oberlander despite a protection order and only stopped when he was ordered to under his probation for domestic battery and other charges as a result of an incident with Oberlander and a police chase.

Oberlander was unable to find an attorney through legal aid or attend the final hearing in Indiana because of financial constraints. She also claimed she feared for her and her daughter's safety. The trial court proceeded in her absence and ruled in Handy's favor, granting him full custody of A.H. Judge Patricia Riley noted in her dissent this was the same judge who ordered a stop to Handy's visitation with his other daughter. The trial court determined Oberlander had abandoned Handy and hindered visitation, and her conduct was "unconscionable."

Oberlander filed a request for relief from judgment because of fraud. The trial court ordered an investigation by the Department of Child Services, which recommended Oberlander have custody of the daughter and Handy have supervised visitation for the time being. The trial court denied Oberlander's request, finding she didn't prove fraud.

Chief Judge John Baker and Judge Ezra Friedlander upheld the trial court's decision to not grant relief pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 59 or 60. Her failure to appear precludes her from seeking relief from judgment and precludes her from making a valid argument the trial court actually committed an "error" that must be rectified, wrote Chief Judge Baker.

However, the majority believed the trial court had the option to treat her motion as a motion to modify the custody arrangement set for it its initial order. The majority remanded the matter for the trial court to revisit the case and weigh all the evidence to determine whether a modification of the current custody arrangement is warranted.

"We urge the trial court to look to the factors set forth in Indiana Code section 31-17-2-8 and apply those factors explicitly in its final custody order," he wrote.

In her dissent, Judge Riley wrote she would grant Oberlander's motion to correct error and remand for a new final hearing based on Walker v. Kelley, 819 N.E.2d 832, 837 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). She also would consider her motion to correct error to be without "procedural defect" because her motion did incorporate her affidavit. The motion is based on her events and is signed by her attorney and herself. She also attached other reports and an affidavit as supporting evidence for her representations.

The judge wrote in a footnote she is troubled by the trial judge's judgment in her award of custody because she was the judge who stopped Handy's visitation with his other daughter.

"Apparently, the domestic violence, Kevin's physical abuse towards A.H., and his anger issues in this cause do not reach the required level of 'irate behavior' to prevent Kevin's custody of A.H.," she wrote.

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  1. Bob Leonard killed two people named Jennifer and Dion Longworth. There were no Smiths involved.

  2. Being on this journey from the beginning has convinced me the justice system really doesn't care about the welfare of the child. The trial court judge knew the child belonged with the mother. The father having total disregard for the rules of the court. Not only did this cost the mother and child valuable time together but thousands in legal fees. When the child was with the father the mother paid her child support. When the child was finally with the right parent somehow the father got away without having to pay one penny of child support. He had to be in control. Since he withheld all information regarding the child's welfare he put her in harms way. Mother took the child to the doctor when she got sick and was totally embarrassed she knew nothing regarding the medical information especially the allergies, The mother texted the father (from the doctors office) and he replied call his attorney. To me this doesn't seem like a concerned father. Seeing the child upset when she had to go back to the father. What upset me the most was finding out the child sleeps with him. Sometimes in the nude. Maybe I don't understand all the rules of the law but I thought this was also morally wrong. A concerned parent would allow the child to finish the school year. Say goodbye to her friends. It saddens me to know the child will not have contact with the sisters, aunts, uncles and the 87 year old grandfather. He didn't allow it before. Only the mother is allowed to talk to the child. I don't think now will be any different. I hope the decision the courts made would've been the same one if this was a member of their family. Someday this child will end up in therapy if allowed to remain with the father.

  3. Ok attorney Straw ... if that be a good idea ... And I am not saying it is ... but if it were ... would that be ripe prior to her suffering an embarrassing remand from the Seventh? Seems more than a tad premature here soldier. One putting on the armor should not boast liked one taking it off.

  4. The judge thinks that she is so cute to deny jurisdiction, but without jurisdiction, she loses her immunity. She did not give me any due process hearing or any discovery, like the Middlesex case provided for that lawyer. Because she has refused to protect me and she has no immunity because she rejected jurisdiction, I am now suing her in her district.

  5. Sam Bradbury was never a resident of Lafayette he lived in rural Tippecanoe County, Thats an error.

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