ILNews

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. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  2. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  3. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  4. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  5. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

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