The divorce process can be complicated, with many decisions made about the proper division of assets and debts as well as child support arrangements. An even more worrisome matter is custody of the children. Here are some common questions about child custody topics and their answers.
What is the difference between legal and physical custody?
Physical custody pertains to where the child lives. Divorced parents may share physical custody, or one parent can have primary physical custody while the other parent has visitation rights. Legal custody refers to the decision making authority that parents have to determine aspects of a child’s life such as education choice, medical treatment and religion. Legal custody commonly gets granted jointly to both parents, but there are instances when it is awarded to only one parent.
What is the definition of “best interests of the child?”
Indiana law aims to rule in the “best interests of the child.” This means that when making decisions about custody, the court wants to make decisions that positively impact a child’s safety, sense of belonging and mental and emotional health. Once a child is 11 years old, the court may emphasize the child’s wishes. To decide on custody arrangements, the court considers:
- Stability of the home environment
- Continuity of family ties and schooling
- Any special needs of the child
- The parents’ health and mental stability
- Any evidence of abuse drug alcohol, emotional, physical or sexual abuse
How can I prove the other parent is unfit?
If you have concerns that the other parent cannot provide adequate care of your child, you may not want to share physical custody. This is especially true if you feel that visits with the other parent are dangerous to the child’s physical or emotional health. Things such as a criminal conviction record, uncontrolled mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction or an abusive background can impact the court’s decision about limiting or discontinuing an order of visitation.
Court action has to be taken to prove a parent is unfit. The proof presented in court commonly includes:
- Witnesses of the parent using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol with the child present
- Witnesses of child abuse and evidence of injuries to the child
- Child experts’ (teacher, pediatrician, counselor) views on the effect of the visits
The court usually tries to preserve a child’s relationship with both parents, but with evidence of harm done to the child, an unfit parent may have visitation rights eliminated.