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Supreme Court: COA erred in custody decision

March 15, 2016

The Indiana Supreme Court went against the Indiana Court of Appeals when it agreed with the trial court that a mother’s motions for custody modification and for contempt should be denied.

The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision, which granted custody of the couple’s daughter to the mother who lived in Oregon. The daughter is now living again with her father in Indiana.

The daughter was living with the father, with frequent visitations by the mother. However, the mother filed motions for custody modification and to motion for rule to show cause after several changes in the agreement, including the mother’s move to Oregon. Also, the daughter was not doing as well in school and the father started working 12-hour shifts, meaning the daughter spent a lot of time in before- and after-school care. Finally, the daughter was not getting along with the father’s girlfriend’s daughter.

The trial court denied her motion but the Court of Appeals agreed on both counts, finding the trial court generally applied an erroneous standard in that it focused solely on father’s situation in making its determination, instead of looking at the changes to both households and the impact on the child. It also found father was in contempt for making unilateral decisions about the daughter’s education.

 Justice Steven David wrote the opinion in the case. In the relationship with the girlfriend’s daughter, the court said there was not enough evidence to show dangerous physical violence, which the mother claimed. There were no details and the mother did not testify regarding the claims of shoving between the girls.

The court also said the finding that the daughter is well adjusted to school is not clearly erroneous, as the COA claimed. There is no evidence the daughter struggled to get along with her teacher or other students, and even if her school performance factors in, there is still some evidence to support she is well adjusted.

The trial court’s finding that modification of custody is not in the daughter’s best interest is supported by the record, the justices said. The move would have a negative impact on both the father and her relationship with her grandparents, and the daughter “adores her father.”

The Supreme Court also said the trial court was correct in denying the mother’s motion for contempt. David said the trial court was in the best position to weigh the evidence and assess the father’s credibility.

Quoting Kirk v. Kirk, 770 N. E.2d 304, 307 (Ind. 2002), David wrote, “On appeal it is not enough that the evidence might support some other conclusion, but it must positively require the conclusion contended for by appellant before there is a basis for reversal.”

There was not enough evidence to support another conclusion, and the court found the Court of Appeals should have sided with the trial court, and awarded custody and judgment to the father.

The case is In Re: The Marriage of Amy Steele-Giri v Brian K. Steele, 45S04-1512-DR-00682.
 

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