Reversal: Trial court erred in awarding joint custody in tense parental dispute

A mother will have sole legal custody of her children after the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded a trial court erred in awarding joint legal custody between two warring parents.

Flavia Rasheed filed for divorce from her husband Rocky Rasheed in 2017 after filing for a protective order against him, alleging domestic and family violence.

The Marion Superior Court issued a preliminary order that the parties share joint legal custody, with Flavia having primary physical custody and Rocky having parenting time according to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. It also issued an order for protection against Rocky that expired in December 2019.

Soon after filing for a divorce, the court appointed Kids’ Voice of Indiana as guardian ad litem in the case following Flavia’s assertion that the parties are members of a small Pakistani  community with certain cultural customs and expectations and would benefit from the guardian ad litem’s assistance.

In one instance, Flavia alleged Rocky pushed her and one of the children to the ground and stated “[n]o one can keep me behind bars.” She also alleged Rocky had encouraged their five-year-old child to play with his handgun and that she feared for the safety and well-being of her children.

GAL Sara Tait observed that because the parents did not demonstrate an ability to effectively co-parent, it was her recommendation that Flavia have sole legal and physical custody subject to Rocky’s parenting time. Tait filed an additional report stating concerns about one of the children’s anxiety and trauma associated with their father, noting the child had a full-scale panic attack when told he would be staying with him for a week.

The trial court ultimately awarded shared joint legal custody of the children, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in Flavia Rasheed v. Rocky Rasheed, 19A-DC-1722.

“We note the trial court did not enter any specific findings or conclusions regarding its reasons for, or the evidence in support of, its order that the parties share joint legal custody, or state that it found an award of joint legal custody would be in the best interests of the children,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the appellate court.

“GAL Tait recommended Mother have sole legal custody of the children and reported the parties have not demonstrated an ability to co-parent even on simple matters. The court ordered that all exchanges of the children occur at the children’s schools or the police station and referenced Mother’s order for protection against Father,” Brown continued. “The record reveals Mother sought the order for protection, the court appointed a guardian ad litem at Mother’s request, Father filed multiple contempt allegations, and the court appointed a parenting coordinator following the guardian ad litem’s request. Based on the record before us, and in light of the parties’ history of non-cooperation, we conclude the court erred in ordering the parties to share joint legal custody.”

The appellate court thus remanded for entry of a modified decree of dissolution providing that Flavia have sole legal custody.

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