Modified custody, parenting time order in mother’s favor upheld at COA

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The grant of sole legal custody of a child to the mother and an order for the father’s parenting time to be supervised were not erroneous, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled Wednesday.

Brian Roper and Ashley Darland divorced in 2021, when their child was 2 years old. The Lake Circuit Court found joint legal and physical custody was in the child’s best interest and continued the parenting time arrangement the parents had been exercising.

But in 2022, Darland petitioned for modification of custody and parenting time due to the child attending preschool in the fall, meaning the existing schedule would no longer be feasible.

A guardian ad litem was appointed to investigate and report to the court on the issues of the petition.

Meanwhile, Roper came to believe that one of Darland’s relatives inappropriately touched the child.

Before the final hearing on Darland’s petition, both Darland and the GAL jointly filed a verified petition for an emergency order temporarily restricting Roper’s parenting time because of his erratic behavior and actions he took in relation to his belief that the child had been sexually abused. The trial court ordered the child not be returned to Roper’s care until after the final hearing.

The GAL testified that Roper’s allegations were investigated by three entities in two states, and none had substantiated abuse. She also expressed concerns about Roper’s mental state and said she believed he presented a threat to the child’s emotional well-being.

The GAL recommended that Darland have sole legal and physical custody of the child and that Roper’s parenting time be supervised at an appropriate facility.

The trial court granted sole legal and primary physical custody of the child to Darland and ordered Roper’s parenting time to be once a week, supervised at a facility. The court also prohibited contact between the child and Darland’s relative and admonished Roper to not undertake his own investigation into whether that order was being followed.

On appeal, Roper argued the trial court erred in restricting his parenting time without rendering a written explanation to justify the deviation from the presumptive schedule set forth in the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.

But the COA found the trial court’s order was sufficient, and there was evidence from the hearing that provided ample support.

“The trial court ordered supervised parenting time and found that unsupervised parenting time with Father would cause harm to Child. This finding has support in the record and explains the court’s order; this is all that is required,” Judge Dana Kenworthy wrote. “Overall, we conclude the trial court met the requirements of the statute and made a parenting time decision with the best interests of the child at the forefront.”

The COA also noted that the trial court provided an explanation from the bench of its reasoning and offered Roper a chance to regain unrestricted parenting time within 60 days.

Judges L. Mark Bailey and Elizabeth Tavitas concurred in Brian D. Roper v. Ashley D. Roper, n/k/a/ Ashley D. Darland, 23A-DC-750.

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