TC Did Not Err in Granting Custody to Mother Even Though Parties & Expert Recommended Joint Custody

Kakollu v. Vadlamudi (July 26, 2021) (Legal Custody / Business Valuation Case) HELD: The trial court did not err when it ordered that Mother have sole legal custody of Child, even though the parties agreed to joint legal custody, and the custody evaluation expert recommended joint legal custody. HELD: The trial court did not abuse its discretion in valuing Husband’s business, or in its characterization of a preliminary advance of attorneys’ fees from Husband to Wife. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Husband and Wife married in 2010, had Child together, and then, in 2018, Wife filed her petition for dissolution of marriage. The parties entered into a preliminary agreement that provided for joint legal custody, with primary physical custody to Wife subject to Husband’s parenting time. The agreed entry also provided for Husband to advance $50,000 for Wife’s attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses, the precise characterization of which would be deferred for future determination. In a separate proceeding, Wife sought and secured an order of protection against Husband. Following a final hearing, the trial court noted that the parties agreed to joint legal custody, and that their evaluator, Dr. Michael Jenuwine, recommended joint legal custody; however, the trial court awarded sole legal custody to Wife. The trial court made its order based, in part, upon findings that the parties could not communicate and cooperate effectively, and that there was “an established pattern of domestic violence.” The trial court also determined that the $50,000 transferred from Husband to Wife for preliminary attorneys’ fees would not be counted as an advance to Wife of her share of the marital estate. Finally, after hearing from Husband’s valuation expert that Husband’s dental business was worth $1,560,000, and from Wife’s valuation expert that the business was worth $2,712,000, the trial court essentially adopted the value conclusion of Wife’s expert. Husband appealed. On the issue of legal custody, the Court of Appeals noted the great discretion afforded to a trial court in making custody determinations. The Court noted that the trial court’s order had “carefully and thoroughly analyzed the evidence relevant to [the statutory custody determination factors] and found that joint legal custody was not in Child’s best interests.” The Court viewed Husband’s appeal as an invitation to reweigh the custody evidence, which it declined to do. On Husband’s preliminary payment of $50,000 towards Wife’s attorneys’ fees, the Court of Appeals noted that the preliminary agreement stated that characterization of the payment would be deferred to final hearing whether any of the $50,0000 should be “deemed an advance of [Wife’s] property settlement . . . spousal maintenance, or some combination thereof.” The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court’s decision not to count this as an advance upon Wife’s property settlement was no erroneous, including because Husband did not present any evidence that the source of the payment was marital assets. Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected Husband’s appeal as to the trial court’s valuation of his business, primarily because the trial court’s determination of value was within the range of valuations presented by expert testimony. The trial court’s order was affirmed. _______________________________________________________________________________________________


James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas 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. Cross Glazier Reed Burroughs, PC, is the premiere boutique family law firm in the state of Indiana. Visit the firm’s website at https://www.cgblawfirm.com/



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