Modification of Primary & Legal Custody From Mother to Father, Due in Part to Mothers Micromanaging

Case: In Re: The Marriage of Ann (Sutton) Baker v. Milo Sutton
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court’s modification of primary physical and legal custody of the parties’ 15-year-old son from Mother, to Father, was not error where the record supported findings that the child wanted to live with Father, that Child and Father had grown much closer in recent years, and that Mother was micromanaging Child’s life.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced in 1999, with Mother awarded sole legal and primary physical custody of the parties’ only child, subject to Father having Guidelines parenting time.

In 2013, Father filed a petition to modify custody. He also requested that the trial court conduct an in camera interview, which the trial court undertook.

The trial court subsequently issued an order that focused on the evolution of the Child’s relationship with Father since the Decree was issued. The trial court found that relationship had matured, and the common interests between Father and Child grew substantially (golf, computers, etc.). In the past year, Child began initiating much of the communication with Father. The trial court’s order was also critical of Mother, citing that she forced Child to continue to participate in many extra-curricular activities in which he was no longer interested, and that she was a “helicopter mom.”

In short, the trial court concluded: “Mother is trying to control the person that [Child] is developing into, and he will never be truly happy unless [Child] determines who that person is. Father, on the other hand, seems to understand the concept of giving [Child] some space.”  The trial court modified custody to sole legal custody and primary physical custody with Father. Mother appealed.

Much of the Court of Appeals’ analysis focused on the role that Child’s wishes played in the trial court’s order. The Court rejected Mother’s argument that Child’s expressed wishes should not control the outcome of the case; the Court of Appeals noted that a child’s wishes is a legitimate factor of consideration and, in this case, there were other factors supporting the modification, as well.  Child had grown closer to Father in recent years, and Child had a good relationship with the members of Father’s current family. The Court also acknowledged Mother’s argument that Child’s stability was an important factor, but that stability did not justify overriding other factors that supported the modification.

The trial court’s modification of custody was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re: The Marriage of Ann (Sutton) Baker v. Milo Sutton

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, 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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