In Indiana, the court has to determine legal custody, physical custody, and the parenting time schedule.

Legal Custody

Legal custody governs decision-making power.  Most parents who are not together have joint legal custody.  That requires the parents to communicate and reach agreement on major issues affecting the child’s health, education, and religions.  Examples of major issues:  

  • What school will the child attend?  Public?  Private?  Parochial?
  • What course of study will the child follow?  Honor Diploma?  Core 40?
  • What doctor/dentist/therapist will treat the child?
  • Will the child be treated with medication or surgery?
  • What faith will the child practice?  If the parents have different religious views, will both be allowed to expose the child to their religious practices?

Joint custody is not appropriate when the parents are in conflict over things.  Even with joint legal custody, each parent is free to make day-to-day decisions while the child is with that parent, though it is usually better for the child if the expectations at both households are similar.

Physical Custody

Physical custody determines where the child lives.  Most children live primarily with one parent, but the popularity of shared legal custody – which involves approximately equal time for each parent – is growing rapidly.  When parents have shared physical custody, it’s important to schedule the time in a way that is appropriate to the child’s age.  Teens might do better with a week on/week off schedule.  Younger children benefit from more frequent, shorter contact.  A 2-2-5-5 schedule might be best for them.  In the typical 2-2-5-5,

  • one parent has the child every Monday and Tuesday,
  • the other parent has the child every Wednesday and Thursday, and
  • they alternate weekends for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  

A 2-2-5-5 might look like this:

WEEK 1 Father Mother Mother Father Father Mother Mother
WEEK 2 Mother Mother Mother Father Father Father Father
WEEK 1 Father Mother Mother Father Father Mother Mother
WEEK 2 Mother Mother Mother Father Father Father Father


When determining child custody, the Court bases its decision on the best interests of the child. Factors to consider include:

  • the age and sex of the child,
  • The wishes of the child’s parent or parents
  • The wishes of the child, with more consideration given to the child’s wishes if the child is at least 14 years of age
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with:
    • The child’s parent or parents;
    • The child’s siblings; and
    • Any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
  • The child’s adjustment to the child’s
    • Home;
    • School; and
    • Community
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • Evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent

Parenting Time

Unless there are safety issues, a parent who does not have physical custody of a child is entitled to parenting time (previously called visitation).  The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines  set minimum schedules for this.  The Guidelines are based upon an understanding that children thrive when they have a loving, bonded relationship with both parents.  The Guideline minimum puts the children in the care of the non-residential parent on alternate weekends, a midweek evening (which may be overnight in some circumstances), selected holidays, and part of school vacations.

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