When parents first deal with custody arrangements, it can be an emotionally fraught time. Parents unfamiliar with the legal process can also find it confusing and intimidating. When dealing with an initial custody determination in Indiana, it is helpful to understand the basics of the process, so you know what to expect. Here are the four things to know about an initial custody determination in Indiana:

Physical and Legal

It is important to know that custody in Indiana, like most states, is divided into physical and legal. For those unfamiliar with the law, it can be confusing to hear two different types of custody being talked about in court. Physical custody is the care and supervision of the child while legal custody is about who can make legal decisions for the child, such as medical, educational, or religion. In some cases, parents may be awarded joint physical and legal custody. In other cases, the judge may award physical custody to both parents, but legal custody to the primary custodial parent.

Sole or Joint?

The second most important thing to know about custody is the matter of whether the judge awards sole or joint custody. Sole custody means one parent is granted physical and legal custody of the child. Joint means both parents are granted some combination of physical and legal custody. A parent may be granted joint custody with physical custody but not legal custody, depending on the case, stability of each parent, and needs of the child. The judge is tasked with determining the best interests of the child above all else.

No Presumption for Either Parent

When making an initial custody determination, there is no presumption for either parent. What this means is that both parents start out on equal footing in the eyes of the court. Many parents worry that the courts will side with the mother as the presumption, but fathers should know that this is simply not the case in Indiana and most other states. Both parents are typically granted equal rights from the start and then case moves forward with presenting information to the judge to make a determination that is more permanent.

Burden Shifts to the Parent Asking for Modification

While there is no presumption for either parent in an initial custody determination, it works differently when it is a modification compared to an initial court order. The parent asking for the modification is burdened with proving that there has been a substantial change in circumstances (financial loss, stability issues, etc.) since the court order. They are tasked with proving that it is in the best interest of the child to modify the custody order.

A child custody case is emotional for both parents and the child at the center of it. Aside from knowing what to expect, talking to an experienced child custody lawyer may help put your mind at ease about the process. They will be able to answer questions while representing your legal parental rights in court.