Information On Different Areas Of Family Law
Each area of family law has its own set of rules and laws that dictate how the particular matter is to be addressed by the courts. Your lawyer needs to be familiar with them and be able to effectively present to the court the facts and the law that supports your position. The following is just a short list of some of the areas in family law your attorney needs to be able to handle (and some additional helpful information):
Custody of Children
Perhaps the most difficult types of family law cases are those involving children. With whom will the children principally reside? How often or under what circumstances will the other parent see the kids? Who is responsible for making decisions affecting the children’s immediate and long-term well-being? How is custody, once determined, modified?
If parents are in a divorce or paternity matter, or are unable to agree on arrangements for the kids, a judge is going to make the decision for them. And regardless of whether the parents are involved in a divorce, a paternity matter or even matters after a divorce or paternity, the single most important consideration that guides the judge in determining custody is ” the best interests of the children.”
If the court is making a child custody decision for the first time in a particular case, both parents begin on an equal footing. In other words, a judge cannot assume that one parent is inherently better suited to be a primary caregiver than the other parent. The judge will look at “all relevant factors” to determine in whose custody the children’s best interests will be served.
Indiana strongly supports the idea that it is in a child’s best interests to have “frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent” (this language comes directly from the Indiana Supreme Court Parenting Time Guidelines). In Indiana, the parent who does not have the physical custody of his or her children is entitled, by law, to meaningful time with his or her children.
Put in a better way, children are entitled to meaningful time with their parents.
Where parents are able to work out reasonable parenting time arrangements that meet their and their children’s needs, courts are more than happy to stand aside and let the parents do what parents are supposed to do best. Most child custody orders will include a rather “standard” provision, such as “the (noncustodial parent) shall have parenting time with the children at all reasonable times and places upon which the mother and father can agree.”
But when parents can’t agree, or can’t work out appropriate arrangements, they have to be imposed by the court. And in many instances, a court will implement a schedule of parenting time that is consistent with the schedules recommended by the “Indiana Supreme Court Parenting Time Guidelines” — a set of rules, guidelines, comments and considerations that are designed to provide for at least a bare minimum of contact for a noncustodial parent.
If a custodial parent believes there is reason to restrict or limit the other parent’s time with the children, that parent must establish that the parenting time will endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair his or her emotional development. The parenting time guidelines provide a great source of information about the importance of each parent’s relationship with his or her children.
Paying Child Support When It’s Not Taken Directly From Your Wages
If you have been directed to pay child support, you need to be aware that payment of your child support obligation is your responsibility. Period. Regardless of what arrangements are put in place to best ensure your child support is paid — wage withholding, personal delivery to the child support clerk, strapping it to a carrier pigeon, whatever — if the payment doesn’t make it where it’s supposed to go, you’re the one who’s going to suffer the consequences for nonpayment of child support.
The absolute best way to make sure your child support obligation is met regularly, timely and in the frequency it’s supposed to be paid is for your employer to take it out of your wages before you even see it, by way of an Income Withholding Order (IWO) and pay it directly to the Indiana Child Support Bureau.
But you can also pay your child support by cash. You can take it directly to the child support clerk in the county in which the child support order was established. And believe it or not, you can now pay your child support at some 7-Elevens, CVS Pharmacies and Family Dollars. Go to www.paynearme.com/Indiana for a store near you. Or you can pay it by MoneyGram, even. Go to www.moneygram.com/locations to find the nearest.
And most county child support clerks as well as the Indiana Child Support Bureau (Indiana StateCentral Collection Unit, P.O. Box 7130, Indianapolis, Indiana 46207-7130) will take personal checks, money orders and cashier’s checks.
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about how and where to pay child support, go to www.in.gov/dcs/support.htm.
Annulment, and the Difference Between a Void Marriage and a Voidable One
In Indiana certain marriages are “void” or “voidable.”
A marriage that appears legitimate may not be. For a variety of reasons, two adults living as husband and wife, both of whom may even believe they are indeed married to one another, may simply be two adults living together. Their marriage may be “void,” or, in other words, not a valid, legally enforceable or legally recognized relationship.
And while some marriages are void — as if they didn’t happen at all — some marriages are “voidable.” In other words, circumstances that existed at the time of an otherwise legal marriage can give a spouse the option of voiding a marriage.
That’s where an annulment comes into play.
The Divorce Process in Indiana (in a real small nutshell)
A divorce is a dissolution of marriage. It is a legal process designed to terminate the legal relationship between you and your spouse, divide and distribute the marital estate, and establish a structure for the post-dissolution care, custody and support of children of the marriage. Once that legal process is concluded, you and your spouse are returned to the status of “unmarried persons” with a decree of dissolution of marriage.
Like most states, Indiana is a “no-fault” divorce state. In other words, the spouse desiring a divorce doesn’t need to allege, or prove, that he or she needs one because of the fault, or misconduct, of the other spouse. As long as the spouse wanting the divorce can establish one of the legal grounds for a divorce, he or she is going to get the divorce.
Legal Separation in Indiana
Whereas a dissolution of marriage terminates the legal arrangement between a husband and wife, there is a process in Indiana called “legal separation” for those married couples who are experiencing difficulties but want to remain married.
A legal separation is a finding by a court that the conditions or circumstances of the marriage, at the time, make it intolerable for the parties to live together, but that the marriage itself should be maintained. Often, a legal separation is a method for couple to live apart for a short period of time and share certain obligations and responsibilities while they put effort into working out their marital difficulties.
Unlike a divorce, where the purpose is to end their relationship, the goal behind a legal separation is the reconciliation of the marriage.
Paternity Affidavits and Establishing Paternity
At or near the time a child is born to unmarried parents, the man “who reasonably appears to be the child’s biological father” (I.C.16-37-2-2.1) will likely be presented with a document with the words “Paternity Affidavit” positioned prominently at the top. The person presenting this document is a person statutorily obligated to give this document to you for you to consider signing.
If you are an unwed father or father-to-be, then you need to understand there are consequences to you — both good and bad — of signing this document, as well as tremendous pitfalls you must be aware of.
By signing a paternity affidavit, you are acknowledging that you are unquestionably the biological father of the child just born. There will be no need for genetic testing to determine if you’re the father. You’ll be identified as the father on the child’s birth certificate as his or her father. If the mother should ever consider placing the child for adoption, your consent to that adoption would be necessary.
Reach Out Today
Give my South Bend office a call at 574-303-6459, fill out my contact form or use my online booking calendar to schedule a consultation with me in the St. Joseph County area. Get a clear view of your options and what you can do to achieve your desired result.