ILNews

Hearing didn't consider all statutory factors

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In a modification of physical custody case, the Indiana Court of Appeals remanded for further proceedings because the trial court was required to hear evidence on and consider all of the factors listed in Indiana Code Section 31-17-2.2-1(b).

In the case In the Matter of the Paternity of J.J., a child born out of wedlock by next friend, Garnet S. v. Wess A.J., No. 08A02-0903-JV-280, mother Garnet S. appealed the trial court modification of physical custody of daughter J.J. to father Wess A.J. after Garnet announced she was moving out of state with her husband.

Garnet had physical custody of J.J. and worked two jobs; Wess didn't pay the court-ordered child support, but he often watched J.J. while Garnet worked and provided clothes, diapers, and other necessities for his daughter. Wess didn't have a job and made money doing odd jobs. The trial court found Wess had parenting time for more than half the year in 2007 and 2008, and because he had been the de facto custodial parent it would be the same as a change of custody. It also found J.J. had a close relationship with her siblings, grandparents, and other relatives and moving to Georgia would have a significant impact upon those relationships.

The trial court modified custody by awarding joint custody to the parents, with Wess having primary physical custody and mother having parenting time.

The Court of Appeals determined the trial court abused its discretion when it considered Wess a "de facto custodian" because there's no evidence he financially supported his daughter, wrote Judge Paul Mathias. The trial court may have been commenting on the relationship of Wess with his daughter, but the court should consider the specific circumstances surrounding that relationship. Wess was J.J.'s primary caregiver largely because he wasn't employed or paying child support and Garnet had to work multiple jobs to support their daughter. She was complying with the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines by offering him first refusal to provide child care while working, wrote Judge Mathias.

"Mother should not be penalized for doing what she was obligated to do, especially when Father was not fulfilling all of his obligations. In short, the trial court should consider not only the existing relationship between Father and J.J. but also the circumstances giving rise to that relationship," he wrote.

Because the record in the instant case doesn't show the parties or trial court fully considered or took into account the requisite statutory factors listed in I.C. Section 31-17-2.2-1(b), the case was remanded with instructions to conduct another hearing on Wess' motion to modify custody and to hear evidence on each of the statutory factors. Absent any exigent circumstances, the court shall order the parties to maintain the status quo pending the outcome of a new hearing.

The appellate court also encouraged parties facing issues involving the custody of children to have an attorney help them with litigation. The parents in this case proceeded pro se during the custody hearing.

"Because the court's order has such a profound effect on the lives of the parties and their children, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of presenting sufficient evidence and developing an adequate record," wrote the judge.

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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  3. Don't believe me, listen to Pacino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6bC9w9cH-M

  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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