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. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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