The state's court of appeals recently issued a ruling on an Indiana child custody and support case.
As our Highland divorce attorneys understand it, the case of Miller v. Carpenter involved a couple with two children - an 8-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter - whose divorce was finalized in 2008.
According to court records, the two reached a child custody settlement in which the mother would have sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the kids. The father would then get them every other weekend and then one overnight visit mid-week. For special occasions and holidays, the pair agreed to work it out according to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, which lay out a very specific schedule for everything from Mother's and Father's Day to Christmas to the child's birthdays.
Further, the parents agreed that the father would receive child support credits for 98 days, rather than the approximately 130 days he actually had them (meaning he was technically paying more than he had to).
Then in mid-June, the mother filed a notice that she planned to move. While the father didn't oppose this relocation, he did request that the custody arrangement be modified. He wanted joint custody that would allow him to spend Sunday evenings with his kids, as well as the ability to pay less in child support. This would be based not only on the increased time he was spending with the children, but also on the fact that the mother had remarried, and therefore her financial situation had changed from the time of the first order.
The father argued that he felt out of the loop in parental decisions. The mother argued that the child support shouldn't be lowered because the father worked full time, yet wasn't even paying rent to his parents, with whom he lived.
Ultimately, the trial court ruled in the father's favor. Citing Indiana Code Section 31-17-2-15, it ruled that because the parents could communicate without being hostile, it would be in the best interests of the children to award joint legal custody, as well as overnight stays on Sundays, and additionally reduced his support payments from about $250 a week to $150 a week, based on the increased amount of time he was spending with the children and the fact that the mother's pay had increased and the cost of child care had gone down.
The mother appealed this decision, arguing that the lower court had abused its discretion by modifying the legal custody order, which as a result changed the physical custody order, and challenging whether the court abused its discretion by reducing the father's support payments. The mother said the fact that she had moved wasn't reason enough to make any of the modifications that were made.
The appellate judges in turn decided that the lower court did in fact err on the issue of joint custody because not enough had changed to warrant a full modification. They did, however, maintain the lower court's ruling on the amount of time the father could spend with his children because more time with him was in their best interest. Further, they said the modifications to the child support payments were warranted because:
1. The father had been initially paying about 20 percent more than he was obligated to in the first place;
2. More than a year had gone by since the original order.
While this case doesn't establish anything extraordinarily groundbreaking, what it illustrates is that Indiana child custody and Indiana child support issues are constantly evolving. People get hired and laid off and promoted. People move. People remarry. People change. And any of these circumstances can warrant another look at the original order.
Highland Child Custody Attorney Burton A. Padove offers free and confidential appointments on family law matters throughout Northwest Indiana, including Munster, Lansing, Porter and Crown Point. Call 219-836-2200.
MILLER v. CARPENTER, Court of Appeals of Indiana