The laws in place to protect children caught in the middle of a custody battle were ignored by a St. Joseph Superior Court, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, pointing to a change in custody despite a lack of a proper evidentiary hearing.
Jason Wilson had physical custody of his two children with ex-wife Kelly Myers for six years until she filed a motion seeking physical custody of both children. The family was ordered to participate in family counseling. Myers later alleged Wilson was trying to sabotage the counseling process, so the court received permission from the parents to communicate with the counselor directly. The counseling service director found out Wilson secretly recorded the sessions and informed the court.
Judge Margot Reagan announced at the beginning of the hearing her intent to rule on Myers’ motion to modify custody and told Wilson she “didn’t want to have another in-camera” with the children and didn’t “understand why we would need an evidentiary hearing.” No witnesses were sworn during the hearing or evidence received. Reagan awarded custody to Myers, with Wilson receiving parenting time. This resulted in the children having to relocate to Michigan.
“In short, what we are now faced with on appeal is an order directing one parent to hand over two children to another parent with no mention or hint that doing so is in accordance with the Indiana Code. And the only support for this order is the transcript of what seems to be little more than an unorganized shouting match labeled as an ‘evidentiary hearing.’ To issue such an order was therefore an abuse of discretion,” Justice Steven David wrote in Jason Wilson v. Kelly (Wilson) Myers, 71S03-1305-DR-399.
“Tempers clearly ran hot for all involved in this case, as can easily happen in family law cases with disputed custody concerns,” he continued. “In such cases, we encourage trial courts to utilize the formal procedures embodied in the Indiana Trial Rules to maintain a level of control and decorum that keeps the litigation process from turning into a mud-slinging argument and preserves the rights of all involved.”
The modification is vacated and a proper evidentiary hearing and inquiry into in-camera interviews are ordered. But since the two children have already been pulled from their Indiana school system and are attending school in Michigan, this status quo should continue until further order of the court as to minimize further disruption.