Trial Court Erred Denying Father’s Petition

Case: In re the Marriage of: Christopher Neal Maddux v. Suzanne Marie Maddux
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court erred when it denied Father’s petition to modify custody.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced in 2005. The Decree provided for Mother and Father to share joint legal custody of their two young children, with Mother having primary physical custody.

In the following years, there was a significant pattern of Mother alleging that Father abused the children, followed by a DCS or police investigation that found no substantiation to Mother’s claims.

In 2013, Father filed a petition to modify custody. A GAL report recommended a change of custody to Father, with Mother to have supervised parenting time pending the outcome of a psychological evaluation.

After a hearing, the trial court issued detailed findings and conclusions, but denied Father’s petition to modify custody. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, noting that a reversal of a denial to modify custody is unusual. However, the Court essentially concluded that the trial court’s own findings of fact warranted a modification as a matter of law. For example, the trial court made a finding that Mother’s conduct was causing “irreparable harm not only to the Children’s relationship with Father but also to ‘their emotional wellbeing.” The trial court’s findings noted that Mother’s bad conduct was “continual” and “substantial and continuing.” But, after detailing Mother’s “audacious and successful attempts to alienate Father from the Children, the trial court concluded that such conduct does not warrant a change of custody.”

The Court of Appeals disagreed. “The trial court clearly erred in concluding that the Children’s best interests do not warrant a change in custody.” The order was reversed, and remanded with instructions to enter judgment on behalf of Father on the issue of custody and to undertake a new calculation of child support obligations.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Marriage of: Christopher Neal Maddux v. Suzanne Marie Maddux

 

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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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