Who Is More Likely to Get Custody: Moms or Dads?

Indiana courts don’t automatically favor mothers or fathers when it comes to child custody cases. The guidelines for making custody decisions in the state indicate that the family law courts must start from the premise that time with both parents is important and in the best interests of most children. The only time this would not be true is when one parent represents a risk for the children or is an otherwise negative influence; in this case, the court should take those factors into account.

Why Do People Often Think Courts Favor Moms?

Many people still think that courts favor moms when it comes to custody cases. Historically, this may have been the case when deciding custody of young children. There was a general belief that having young children live with mothers tended to be better for them, and in cases involving teenagers, courts often leaned in the direction of the parent of the same gender when possible.

For many years now, however, family law courts in the Hoosier State have looked at custody cases with the goal of ensuring equal time with both parents if possible. In fact, father’s rights have become an important part of family law to ensure that both parents get an equal chance at a relationship with their kids. That’s because it’s believed that it’s in the best interests of the children to spend time with both parents barring any mitigating circumstances that would lead a court to reasonably believe otherwise.

What Do Indiana Courts Look at When Considering Custody Cases?

Of course, the courts don’t simply issue orders for full joint custody without understanding whether there are mitigating factors. If either mom or dad are neglectful or otherwise a danger to the kids, the court may decide against them or even strip their rights to custody or visitation—in extreme cases. It is the behavior of the parent and their willingness and ability to care for the children that matters, and not the gender of the parent.

Some factors that the courts may take into consideration include:

  • The current age of the child or children in question
  • The sex of the child or children in question
  • What the parents want in regard to custody—do they want equally shared custody or are they each arguing for a different arrangement and why?
  • What the child wants in regard to custody—the court will hear from the child if appropriate, but more consideration is typically given to teenagers
  • How custody decisions may impact the child’s involvement or ability to adjust to life in the home, the community, and school
  • Information about the physical and mental health of everyone involved, including the child, the parents, and anyone else in the homes in question
  • Whether there is any evidence of abuse or domestic violence on the part of either of the parents
  • Potential interactions within each home with others, including siblings and step-siblings or anyone else who could have a positive or negative impact on the child’s or children’s wellbeing
  • Any evidence that the child or children have been or are being cared for by someone else primarily while in a parent’s custody

What Does Sole Custody Mean?

Sole custody is awarded when one parent gets full custody of the children. Sole legal and/or physical custody can be awarded.

Indiana courts tend to avoid sole custody decisions unless there are reasons for it such as:

  • Abandonment. If one parent has abandoned the children by not showing up for custody or visitation, not calling or contacting them, or otherwise seeming to ignore the relationship, courts may order sole custody.
  • Abuse. Physical aggression against children or the other parent, domestic violence, and other instances of abuse may result in sole custody.
  • Substance abuse. If one parent is unable to care for the children safely due to their untreated and continuing abuse of alcohol or drugs, sole custody may be in order.
    In many of these cases, the parent seeking custody may need to document the situation and make a case that proves it in court.

What Does Joint Custody Mean?

Joint custody occurs when both parents take an active role in raising the children. A wide range of options exist with joint custody. Children may spend equal time with each parent or spend every other weekend with one. Typically, courts look for what is best for the children and what the parents can agree on when making decisions about how joint custody will work. Courts also follow the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, which lay out some general rules for setting custody schedules.

Legal vs. Physical Custody

Note that legal and physical custody are not the same thing. Physical custody refers to where the children live or spend time. Legal custody refers to which parents have the right to make important decisions about education, healthcare, and other matters for their children.

You can have sole physical custody and joint legal custody, for example. Alternatively, you can have sole legal custody and still have a visitation arrangement that allows your children to spend time with their other parent.

The Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to which parent the children reside with. In a situation involving joint physical custody, the kids may split their time approximately 50/50 between each home. In some cases, you can have joint physical custody with a slight imbalance on where kids reside, simply for logistical and practical purposes.

Legal custody refers to which parent has the right to make major decisions about the care and treatment of the children. Those include decisions about where the kids go to school or what medical care is appropriate. In a situation involving joint legal custody, both parents are meant to have an equal say in these matters. In theory, they must come to agreements about all of these decisions.

In both cases, joint custody is contrasted with sole custody. Sole physical custody means that the children spend all or most of their time with one parent. The other parent may get the kids every other weekend or on certain holidays or be allowed supervised visitation, depending on the factors in the case. Sole legal custody means that only one parent has the right to make major decisions for the kids.

Can Joint Legal Custody Work Without Joint Physical Custody?

Every family is different, and it’s important to take time to consider what would work best for yours. That being said, joint legal custody can certainly work, even when joint physical custody isn’t present. Some factors that can increase the chances of this arrangement working include:

  • Parents who are committed to working together to make decisions
  • Parents who share many of the same values and goals for raising their kids
  • A civil divorce or other split that hasn’t left either parent feeling extremely hurt or negative toward the other
  • Both parents having demonstrated a willingness to put the best interests of the kids ahead of their own need to “be right”
  • Both parents being willing to put in the communication work necessary to support joint legal custody

Only you can decide what is best for your family, but there are some things you can do to help support success with joint legal custody. For example, you can take regular time to sit down with the other parent to map out goals and plans, discuss major decisions, and present reasons for why you want to go a certain way.

Getting Help With Your Child Custody Case

Child custody cases can become complex. When you can work together civilly with the other parent, agreeing on custody arrangements, it’s often less stressful and time-consuming. However, you should still ensure you get all agreements in writing and protect your rights and interests.

When you don’t have the cooperation of the other parent or feel the other parent presents a risk or danger to you or your children, it can be even more critical to protect yourself during child custody matters. Working with a family law attorney helps you do that. If you’re facing child custody issues—whether you’re a mom or dad—reach out to our law office today to find out how we can help.