In Indiana, there are three things that are typically meant by "custody". These are: (1) Physical Custody; (2) Legal Custody; and (3) Parenting Time.
All Indiana courts have a duty to make custody and parenting decisions based not on the "rights" of a parent, but instead on the "best interest of the child". This doesn't mean parents lose their rights, but it does mean that courts are less concerned about what benefits parents than they are about ensuring that a child's interests are put first over the parents.
PHYSICAL CUSTODY: This term usually refers to two things. The first is where the child or children primarily "live" and where they typically sleep at night. Physical custody can be exlusive or "primary", meaning that one parent has the children MOST of the time. It can also be shared, meaning that the children spend equal time, or nearly equal time, with each parent. Physical custody also refers to which parent is making the day to day parenting decisions. This might include whether a child can spend the night with a friend, or go to a birthday party, or how much time they can spend playing video games or watching television.
PARENTING TIME: This is a term that relates to a child's schedule. When one parent has primary physical custody, then the other parent typically as a set "parenting time schedule", perhaps even one set by the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. Even when parents share physical custody, each parent will have their own "parenting time schedule" that will include a normal weekly schedule, as well as a plan for holidays, school breaks, vacations and birthdays.
LEGAL CUSTODY: Legal custody refers to decision making for the "big" issues that affect children. Parents ALWAYS have the right to information about their children, even if they don't have legal custody. However, having legal custody, or sharing it, means that the parents have a right to be involved in the major decisions and not just know about them. Courts often prefer that parents share legal custody and Judges want to see parents working together to make the decisions that are in their children's best interests. However, in some rare cases, this is simply not possible, and those are times that a Court might make one parent the sole "legal custodian" for the children. Legal Custody decisions typically fall into three categories:
Medical or Healthcare Decisions. Parents who have legal custody, even joint legal custody, have the right to be involved in decisions about things like choosing doctors, whether their child gets braces, or has surgery, if a child should see a counselor and choosing that counselor, whether to put the child on ADHD medication, etc.
Educational Decisions. This might be things like whether a child attends a public or private school, which specific school the child will attend, whether they need a tutor or need to have an IEP at school. It might also include decisions about extra-curricular activities that happen either through the school or in the community.
Religious Upbringing. Decisions about religion may include things like whether a child is raised in and taught the religious precepts of any religion, what specific church, temple, mosque or other house of worship the child attends, whether the child participates in mid-week religion classes, and whether a child is baptized or confirmed in the church. Religious decisions might also spill over into lifestyle decisions and decisions about what events and activities children are allowed to do.
Parents in Indiana have a great deal of flexibility in forming their parenting plan. The only limitation is that parents MUST consider the best interests of their children in creating their parenting plan. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines are always helpful as you begin to think about the parenting plan that will be best for your children, but don't be limited by them. Be flexible. Be creative. Think specifially about the unique needs and interests of your children and the family traditions of your children's family (on both sides). We can help you form a plan that is right for your family.
Review the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines
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