Family Law Blog: Trial Court Erred Denying Mother’s Petition for Modification

Family Law Case Review
Case: the Marriage of L.C. v. T.M.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court erred when it refused to grant Mother’s petition to modify custody, in light of the children’s increased ages and involvement in extracurricular activities rendered the frequent one-hour commutes to/from Father’s residence to be impractical. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erroneously held the parents to a shared physical custody arrangement because the arrangement was previously agreed upon by the parents, not because it was in the children’s best interests.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
On November 16, 2007, the court approved a partial custody, support, and property settlement agreement. Mother and Father agreed to joint legal and physical of two minor children, then six and eight years old. Mother resided in Carmel and Father resided in Mooresville. The children were enrolled within the Carmel school system. At the time of the 2007 agreement, the children stayed overnight with Father on Mondays, Tuesdays, and alternate weekends from Friday through Sunday; the children were with Mother overnight on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and alternate weekends from Friday through Sunday.

On September 18, 2008, the Court ordered that Father would enroll the children in fall sports and pays all registration costs, and that Mother would enroll the children in spring sports and pay all registration costs. In Spring of 2012, Mother enrolled minor son in a year-round travel soccer program and minor daughter played in a continuous Carmel traveling soccer team. On June 7, 2012, Mother filed a petition to modify custody and alleged that there had been substantial changes in circumstances because the children were spending excessive hours in the car being transported between Carmel and Mooresville. The children wanted to reside with the Mother, and the children needed a more structured routine.

The trial court denied Mother’s petition to modify custody. Although a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) recommended modifying the parenting time arrangement, in December 2012 the trial court determined that Mother’s 2012 enrollment of minor son in a traveling soccer league directly violated the 2008 order that required Mother to only enroll the children in spring sports. The Mother appealed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the trial court’s ruling. Under Indiana Code § 31-17-2-8, Mother established one or more of the statutory factors since the children informed the GAL that they were distressed with the physical custody arrangement, they strongly supported a parenting time change, they indicated that Father’s residence was hostile, they had difficulty maintaining peer friendships with the one hour one-way drive to Father’s house and the overnight schedule, and they were older at eleven and thirteen years old. After the Court entered the 2008 agreed Order, the children’s schedules had substantially changed supported by the Parenting Coordinator’s testimony that the transportation schedule between Mother and Father created a “logistical nightmare” with the children often completed homework in the car and Mother and Father endured scheduling challenges to organize changes in the children’s schedules. The Court of Appeals construed Indiana Code § 31-17-2-8 and determined that Mother demonstrated a substantial change in circumstances and modifying the original order was in the children’s best interest.

The trial court’s denial of Mother’s petition to modify custody was reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re: the Marriage of L.C. v. T.M.

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The Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP is one of the largest full-service matrimonial and family law practices in the State of Indiana. We represent clients in a wide spectrum of family law matters, including premarital agreements, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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