G.S., Jr. v. H.L. (January 10, 2022) (Third Party Custody Award)
HELD: Trial court did not abuse its discretion when it awarded custody of Child to Stepfather, over the objection of Father.
FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mother and Stepfather were married and had one child together, D.L. After their divorce, Mother and Father had Child together. Mother and Father’s relationship ended, and Father’s interactions with Child thereafter were limited.
Stepfather came to know Child during the parenting time exchanges for D.L. During Stepfather’s parenting time periods, Stepfather began taking not only taking D.L, but Child, as well. Mother and Stepfather later reconciled and, for a time, Mother, Father, D.L., and Child all lived together as a family unit. When Mother later moved out, Child and D.L. remained with Stepfather.
DCS become involved with the family based upon drug allegations concerning Mother. As a result of subsequent proceedings, the trial court awarded legal and primary physical custody of Child to Stepfather, with Mother’s support of that arrangement. Mother and Father were each awarded substantial parenting time and ordered to pay child support. Father appealed.
Under Indiana law, an award of custody to a third party, over the natural parent, may be made only when the trial court is satisfied by “clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of the child require such a placement.” The Court of Appeals concluded that Stepfather’s long history of providing stability for Child, and Father’s relative acquiescence, supported the trial court’s decision.
Father also argued on appeal that the trial court failed to engage in “best interests” analysis. The Court noted that the required best interests analysis does not require the trial court to engage in a point-by-point analysis of every factor listed in Ind. Code § 31-14-13-2. And, here, the trial court developed an adequately detailed and specific analysis of many of the factors listed therein.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding custody of Child to Stepfather, and the trial court’s order was affirmed.
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