Court improperly considered military service in custody ruling

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a custody order when it found the trial court failed to enter appropriate findings and improperly considered a father’s military service in its determination.

Less than two months after filing for divorce in March 2017, Hailey Hazelett gave birth to B.H., born the same week that active duty father Caleb Hazelett was deployed for a mandatory six- to nine-month period.

The Allen Superior Court awarded sole legal and primary physical custody to Hailey, and Caleb was ordered to have supervised parenting time and pay child support in the amount of $213 per week, with an additional $10 toward child support arrearage.

On appeal, Caleb argued the trial court erred by granting Hailey sole legal custody and by considering his active duty status as a factor in that determination.

Noting that the trial court’s findings in the custody determination were merely a recitation of each party’s contentions, the appellate court reversed and remanded with orders to enter adequate findings of what the trial court itself determined to be true.

The appellate court further reversed and remanded upon finding that the trial court erred in denying Caleb overnight parenting time based solely on his absence due to his military service. It noted the trial court was prohibited from considering military service as a factor under Indiana Code section 31-17-2-21.3(a).

Additionally, the appellate court found an abuse of discretion in the trial court’s order restricting Caleb to supervised parenting time. The court failed to enter a finding that Caleb’s unsupervised parenting time would endanger B.H.’s physical health or impair B.H.’s emotional development. The court was ordered to sufficient finding to support supervised parenting time or remove the restriction.

The COA further remanded on the issue of Caleb’s significant travel expenses to the trial court for consideration of child care costs, finding its omission of the fact that Caleb is scheduled to be stationed in Colorado “was clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances presented before it.”

However, the panel did support Hailey’s assertion that Indiana Code section 31-17-2-8 and the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines allowed the trial court to restrict Caleb’s overnight visits with B.H. in accordance with B.H.’s age. 

“It is clear that Section II.B of the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines does not recommend overnight parenting time before age three if a noncustodial parent has not exercised regular caretaking responsibilities unless the requirements of Section II.C.3(C)(4) have been met,” Judge Margret Robb wrote. “Therefore, we cannot conclude the trial court abused its discretion regarding overnight parenting time when its decision is consistent with the recommendations of the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.”

The case is In re: The Marriage of: Caleb Hazelett v. Hailey Hazelett, 18A-DN-1592.

 

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