Custody ruling for mother upheld on appeal

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the grant of sole legal custody to the mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder upon finding the parents’ disagreements about the child’s medical and educational needs was impeding her development.

Both Tanner and Taylor Hecht requested a change in legal and physical custody of their daughter, T.H., after being unable to agree on her educational path and whether she should be medicated to control her impulsivity.

Regarding education, the parents could not agree on whether to allow their daughter to matriculate into the second grade along with her classmates, despite T.H.’s educational team stating she was not intellectually prepared to do so. They also disagreed on whether T.H. should take the drug Abilify per her geneticists’ recommendation for her condition, Williams Syndrome.

Both parents eventually filed a motion to modify custody and parenting time, among other things, each alleging it was in the best interests of the children that custody be modified to award sole legal custody to them, respectively.

Taylor specifically asserted she wanted sole legal custody of T.H. because she and Tanner couldn’t agree on decisions regarding the child, stating T.H.’s delays in communicating were impeding her development.

In contrast, Tanner argued he did co-parent with Taylor and communicated his specific concerns regarding matters related to T.H.’s educational and medical needs.

Finding Taylor to be better positioned to serve as the child’s “quarterback,” the Putnam Superior Court awarded her sole legal custody of T.H., with the expectation that she would continue to consider Tanner’s opinion when making educational, medical and extracurricular decisions on the child’s behalf.

In an appeal of the trial court’s decision, Tanner argued the court applied the wrong legal standard when it used Indiana Code §§ 31-17-2-13, 31-9-2-67, and 31-17-2-15. He also asserted the court abused its discretion in awarding Taylor sole legal custody of their daughter.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Tanner Hecht v. Taylor Hecht, 19A-DC-1934, finding first that although the trial court didn’t specifically reference I.C. 31-17-2-8 and 31-17-2-21, it did apply the correct legal standard and consider all of the required statutory factors. It further found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision, affirming the award of sole legal custody to the mother.

“Ample evidence was presented at the hearing that Father and Mother are unable to communicate effectively regarding matters related to T.H.’s educational and medical needs; that they are incapable of co-parenting when it comes to these matters; but, they are loving and caring parents to T.H. individually,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the appellate court. “… Here, the trial court heard the witnesses firsthand, observed their demeanors, and ultimately decided that Mother should have sole legal custody of T.H. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we cannot second-guess that decision.”

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