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Child Custody Process in Indiana

For couples with children, the end of the relationship means taking steps to determine child custody decisions. If the parents don't agree on where the children should live and who should make important decisions about them, then the court has authority in these matters.

While the basic actions are similar, every jurisdiction has its own specific child custody procedures. If you and your child live in the Hoosier State and there's a custody dispute, then you must follow Indiana's child custody process for a resolution.

Establishing Paternity

Indiana presumes that the husband is the father of any children born during the marriage. An unmarried father, however must first establish paternity before he's legally recognized as a child's father. When this is established (either through a paternity affidavit or via court order), then the father may pursue custody rights.

Indiana Child Custody Process Summary

Although it can never replace a consultation with an attorney, a plain language guide to the law can provide a useful reference for understanding child custody law. See the chart below for a summary of the child custody process in Indiana.


Indiana Code Title 31:

Types of Custody

Custody Types: There are 2 types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody grants decision-making rights to the parent and physical custody determines what parent the child will live with. You may file for both.

There is also a distinction between sole custody, where one parent has the custody, and joint custody, where both parents share custody.

Filing for Custody

If the parents are married but separated and they don't agree on where the child will live, one of the parents will need to file a divorce or a custody action to get a court order on custody of the child. Custody is part of the divorce proceedings.

If the parents were never married, the mother has legal custody until a court order states otherwise. If the father wants custody, he establishes paternity and files for a court order.

Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is the court order that states the following:

  • When the child will be with each party;
  • Who will make major life decisions about the child; and
  • How the parents will resolve future disputes about the child.

Final Court Order

Mediation is used so that the parents can reach an agreement. If they can't, then the court will enter the agreement; the court will make its own decision based on what's in the best interests of the child.

When mediation fails to produce a resolution, court custody hearings will proceed. After hearing from both parents, the judge will make the final decision in the child custody order.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Child Custody Process in Indiana: Related Resources

Discuss Indiana Custody Process with a Lawyer

If you and your ex can't agree on custody, you'll have to endure Indiana's child custody process for closure. It's difficult to navigate this without an advocate on your side. Contact an experienced Indiana attorney who can work toward achieving the best custody situation for your child.

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