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COA affirms stripping ‘helicopter mom’ of custody of teen son

September 12, 2014

The decision to modify custody to give a father sole legal and physical custody of his 15-year-old son was not clearly erroneous, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. In affirming the decision, the judges noted that the mother is overbearing and has forced the teen to participate in activities he has little interest in.

Ann Baker was awarded sole physical and legal custody of B.S. when she and Milo Sutton divorced in 1999. In 2013, Sutton filed a petition for change of custody and modification of support.  The trial court held an in camera review with B.S. and then entered its order in January 2014 that Sutton should have sole physical and legal custody.

Delaware Circuit Judge Kimberly Dowling cited that Sutton and his son have become closer in the past year, share similar interests, and he fits in with his stepmother and her two children. She also noted that the relationship between B.S. and his mother has become strained, and she is a “helicopter parent” who is very involved in his life and doesn’t give him much space. B.S. also indicated to the court he wanted to live with his father, which would require him to relocate and join a new school.

Baker argued that B.S.’ wish to live with his father cannot serve as a basis to modify custody. Modification of child custody may occur as long as there is at least one substantial change in the factors listed in 31-17-2-8.

“[W]e are cognizant that there are certain inherent dangers in allowing custody modifications to occur solely at the behest of a child. Suffice it to say, there is a host of potential factors and circumstances that could dictate whether a child’s wishes constitute a substantial change in circumstances and whether a modification would be in the best interests of the child where the sole basis for modification is the child’s preference. In this case, however, the child’s wishes are reinforced by additional factors found by the trial court which are supported by the evidence; this leads us to the conclusion that the trial court’s modification of custody is not clearly erroneous,” Judge Margret Robb wrote in In Re: The Marriage of Ann (Sutton) Baker v. Milo Sutton, 18A02-1401-DR-58.

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