COA: Juvenile court has no jurisdiction to modify custody agreement

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled a juvenile court does not have jurisdiction to modify a paternity court’s custody order and sent the case back to the lower court.

At some point father G.B. established paternity of J.J.’s children and shared custody pursuant to a paternity court’s custody order. Last year, J.J., while under the influence of methamphetamine, was involved in a car accident with her children. Two weeks later, the Indiana Department of Child Services filed a petition in Elkhart Circuit Court’s Juvenile Division alleging the children were children in need of services. The parents admitted in juvenile court they were CHINS and DCS recommended services for mother only. The court then scheduled a dispositional hearing.

Before the hearing, DCS filed a motion for change of custody that said based on the accident, there has been a change in the factors considered for the custody order and asked the juvenile court to grant the father custody of the children, with mother having visiting rights. The juvenile court did this and terminated the CHINS case. The mother appealed.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in appellate court’s decision that once the juvenile court dismissed the parents from the court, its jurisdiction over them ended and the old custody agreement from the paternity court ruled, placing the children back in the custody of the mother.

“While the juvenile court could enter a dispositional decree that removed the children from Mother and authorized DCS to place them with Father, as soon as the juvenile court discharged the parties, it lost jurisdiction,” Vaidik wrote. “But because it appears that the juvenile court would not have discharged the parties and terminated the CHINS case had it not thought that Father was getting full custody, we reverse and remand this case for further proceedings.”

The case is In the Matter of J.B. and L.B.: J.J. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 20A05-1510-JC-1612.

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