Nelson v. Nelson – Challenge of Child Custody Order

Per the 2002 Indiana Supreme Court case of In re Guardianship of B.H., family courts in this state operate with the strong presumption that a child’s interests are best served by being placed with his or her natural parent. When third parties seek to intervene in custody proceedings to acquire custody, it is the third party that bears the burden of proof in the case.

This is true even when natural parents initiate an action to re-obtain custody of a child. In those situations, the burden of proof doesn’t automatically shift back to the parent. Instead, it’s always on the third party. Parents and third parties aren’t, as the courts have held, on a “level playing field” when it comes to custody. Parents will always have the upper hand.

However, this does not mean parents don’t lose these cases. In fact, it happens all the time and it’s often the result of being unprepared for hearings and trials – including failing to adhere to court recommendations and guidelines from previous hearings.

A Hammond child custody attorney can help in these matters, whether it is guiding parents on the path toward regaining custody of their children, or helping third parties obtain or maintain custody where it is in the child’s best interests.

In the recent case of Nelson v. Nelson, before the Indiana Court of Appeals, a mother who signed over custody of her daughter to her mother and aunt sought to regain custody of the girl, now 8. However, the child’s grandmother and great-aunt argued the child would be better served remaining in their care. The court agreed, as did the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Mother pointed to the precedent set in the case of In re Guardianship of B.H., but the courts analyzed the totality of the circumstances in denying her request.

According to court records, the little girl was born in October 2006. At the time, her mother was unmarried and had a history of difficulty with drugs and the criminal justice system. The girl spent all but eight months of her life living with her maternal grandmother and great-aunt in adjoining apartments.

In 2012, when the girl was six-years-old, her grandmother and great-aunt filed for custody of the girl. At the final hearing, the girl’s mother testified she had no job, no earnings, no motor vehicle and a number of outstanding criminal issues, including a pending trial for possession of methamphetamine. The mother indicated she believed it was in the best interest of her daughter to be in the custody of her mother and aunt.

The girl’s father was neither present nor involved. Trial court grated that petition.

Fast-forward two years. The girls’ mother sought to terminate that custody order .She had since gotten married. She had twins. She was on probation for possession of methamphetamine, but she hadn’t tested positive for the drug. She completed substance abuse treatment. She got a job part-time at a hotel and was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her husband (not the father of the twins) and the babies. Her husband was also on probation for DUI.

Mother noted she had exercised her visitation with her daughter, which included nights and weekend visits every weekend or every other weekend.

Still, the girl’s grandmother and great-aunt did not agree with the mother’s assertion that it was in the girl’s best interest to be back in her custody. They believed the girl should stay with them.

Trial court denied mother’s petition, and appeals court affirmed. Ultimately, the courts found the third parties in this case proved the child’s best interests were substantially and significantly served by placement with them.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Nelson v. Nelson, Sept. 24, 2015, Indiana Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Carie v. Carie – Division of Property and the “Marital Pot” in Indiana Divorce, Sept. 20, 2015, Hammond Child Custody Lawyer

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