Indiana Court of Appeals Affirmed Trial Court’s Ruling That It Had Jurisdiction to Modify Custody

Case: In re the Paternity of: J.G. (Minor Child), H.G. v. T.C. III 
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll (with thanks to Tamara McMillian)

HELD: The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling that it had jurisdiction to modify custody, and that the evidence supported the order granting Father primary physical custody of the minor child.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
In 2005, Child was born out-of-wedlock to Mother and Father. After Child’s birth, Mother moved several times with Child to a number of states and residences while Father and his family remained residents of Crawford County. In 2008, Mother requested food stamps in Kansas. The State of Kansas send a request to Crawford County under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Ultimately, Crawford County Circuit Court opened a paternity action.

In 2009, Father’s paternity of the minor child was established and the court ordered Father to pay support of $53/wk. The trial court also awarded Mother primary physical custody of the minor child and awarded Father parenting time and telephone contact according to an agreed upon schedule. Between 2010-2012, Father exercised sporadic parenting time due to Mother’s frequent moves.

In 2012, Mother returned with Child to reside in Indiana. Father enrolled Child in school. During the 2012 winter break, Mother relocated to Nevada with Child without informing Father or filing a notice of intent to relocate with the trial court.

In 2013, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing and concluded that Mother’s unauthorized move to Nevada interfered with Father’s parenting time, was inappropriate, and in contempt of the court’s order. The trial court also ultimately awarded Father physical custody of the minor child, restricted Mother’s parenting time, and ordered Mother to pay support of $53/wk. Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to rule on any custody and parenting time issues. It also affirmed the trial court’s decision that it was in Child’s best interest for a change of physical custody from Mother to Father. Mother argued that because this case initially opened in Crawford Circuit Court as a UIFSA paternity action, the trial court only had the authority to rule on paternity and child support issues. Mother asserted that the trial court could not address custody and parenting time issues without her and Father’s explicit consent. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Mother. The Court of Appeals reasoned that Mother and Father implicitly agreed to the trial court hearing and ruling on custody and parenting time issues when the parties entered into an agreement regarding custody and parenting time issues as a part of the paternity case.

Regarding the custody modification, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that it was in Child’s best interest for a change of custody and there was a substantial change of circumstances. Mother was often transient and unstable. In 2012, Child suffered from multiple ringworm sites and bedbug bites while with Mother for summer parenting time. Father had stable employment and familial support in Indiana. The Guardian Ad Litem also supported the trial court’s conclusion that Father should have primary physical custody of Child. The trial court’s evidentiary findings support the trial court’s modification ruling.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Paternity of: J.G. (Minor Child), H.G. v. T.C. III

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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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