How to Petition the Court for Custody in Indiana

By Lindsay Kramer

Updated April 29, 2019

In many divorces, parents work together to determine an appropriate custody arrangement for their children. This arrangement covers the children’s legal and physical custody. When parents in Indiana cannot settle their custody arrangement between themselves, they may turn to the court to determine their children’s custody for them. This involves petitioning the court for child custody.


Adults seeking child custody in Indiana must file their petitions with the circuit court of the county where they live or where the child lives.

Who Can Petition the Court for Custody?

Before petitioning the court for child custody, the parent or other adult should educate himself on who can petition the court for custody in Indiana. Adults who may petition the court for custody include:

  • The child’s parents.
  • The child’s grandparents.
  • Any other adult with whom the child has a strong, consistent caregiver relationship.

The child’s parents are presumed to be the best legal guardians for her, so when one or both of the parents are present, it is not likely that another adult will be awarded custody. However, an adult other than one of the child’s parents may be awarded custody in Indiana if the court determines that granting this adult custody of the child is in the child’s best interest. This may be for reasons including:

  • The child’s parent or parents struggle with addiction.
  • The parents have a history of child abuse or neglect.
  • One or both of the child’s parents are absent from her life.
  • Neither parent has a stable enough lifestyle to provide for the child, such as a permanent home.

A non-parent who pursues custody in Indiana is known as a de facto custodian. To be deemed a de facto custodian, the adult – who may be a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or another close relative or family friend – generally must have acted as the child’s primary caregiver for six months to one year.

Where to File the Petition

An adult petitioning the court for child custody must file the petition with the county circuit court of the Indiana county where she lives or the county where the child’s existing custody order was filed. In the latter circumstance, the document used to petition the court for custody is known as a Petition for Modification of Child Custody.

The petition for custody can be obtained online or from the circuit court. The adult filing the petition must fill it out completely according to its instructions. If he is working with a family lawyer, the lawyer can help him complete and file the petition. Information to be included in the petition includes:

  • The child’s full legal name.
  • The adult’s current address.
  • The child’s current address.
  • The adult’s relationship to the child.
  • The adult’s desired custody arrangement.

Supporting a Petition for Custody

Along with the identifying information about the adult and the child, the custody petition must also include a description of the child’s current lifestyle and needs, and explain how the proposed custody order will serve the child’s needs more effectively than the current arrangement.

When the court determines custody in Indiana, it makes its determination based on what it deems to be in the child’s best interest. This is true in cases where a child’s parents are divorcing and the court has to create a new custody order, as well as in cases where an adult requests a modification to an existing child custody order. A lawyer can often help the petitioning parent gather a sufficient body of evidence to support her petition and illustrate key facts about the child’s lifestyle and needs.

Once the petition is filed, the court schedules a hearing to review it. At the hearing, the filing adult presents reasons for seeking the arrangement set out in the petition, and if another adult opposes this arrangement, that adult and his lawyer have the opportunity to present their case for a different custody arrangement. After considering both parties’ positions and evidence to support them, the court determines the ideal custody arrangement for the child and creates or modifies the child’s custody order accordingly.