All Things Family Law

Discussion of all things related to family law from an Indiana divorce attorney.

This blog provides general family law and divorce law information. If you have a specific issue or case you need assistance with please contact me directly. 

Custody and Parenting Time

When someone says they want 'custody' or 'sole custody' what do they really mean? They usually explain that they want to be involved in decision making and want to have substantial time with the child; however, being involved and have substantial time with the child is not necessarily controlled by the title of 'custody.' This posting will try to explain the title of 'custody.'

In Indiana we have two components to custody: (1) legal custody and (2) physical custody. Legal custody refers to decision-making authority for decisions related to the child's medical care, educational placement and religious upbringing. If you and the other parent can communicate effectively on these topics you could share legal custody. What if you reach an impasse on an issue? That issue can be resolved with attorneys, a mediator or with the help of a parenting coordinator (see previous blog entry).

'Physical custody' and 'parenting time' are best expressed as "who is going to have the child and at what times?" If one parent has 'sole physical custody' we do not know what that really means unless we know how much parenting time the other parent will have. Your court order might say you have 'sole physical custody,' but it could also say that the other parent has the child three days one week and four days the next? There is nothing 'sole' about that. As a default recommendation, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines suggest that at a minimum the parent that has the child less should have the child every other weekend, one evening a week (this can be an overnight), and one half the summer and for alternate holidays. This equates to 25-30% of the time with the child.

What about a 50/50 split? This is sometimes a goal of a prospective client. It can work in certain circumstances, but it has to be in child's best interest as well. Logistical factors can control this:

Do you live close to each other?

Can each parent get the child to school?

Can work schedules support this?

Who will take and pick up the child to activities?

Indeed, there are certainly more factors. As you might imagine, being able to manage a 50/50 split of parenting time depends on how well the parents can work together and communicate.

Finally, let's discuss what the title of 'custody' does not control. It does not give one parent the right to decide what activities the child is involved in, whether the child should be allowed to go see the new Harry Potter movie, or whether the child should be allowed to stay up past 11 p.m. This are decisions each parent gets to make during the their respective parenting time (however, the issue of activities needs to involve communication between the parents, especially where future scheduling is needed or there is a fee for the activity that is shared). Put another way, just because you have 'custody' you do not get to micromanage all of the child's concerns.

When considering how to settle the issue of custody, don't focus on the title of 'custody,' but how to frame your settlement agreement or court order to cause you to have input into the decisions you want to share and the time you wish to have.

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