Appellate court sides with Hoosier father’s requests in out-of-state parenting time dispute

A Michigan mother could not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday to reverse a decision regarding custody, parenting time and child support for her son that granted several requests from his father, an Indiana resident.

After Kelsey Morrison and Aaron Harmon found out they were having a child together, the parents began living together with their son in Delaware County. Morrison, a native of Michigan, shared parenting responsibilities with Harmon and the two took turns watching their son while the other parent worked.

Harmon, who worked for a construction company, earned $40,000 in 2019, while Morrison worked as a substitute teacher and part-time tutor, earning $7,000 that same year.

Things got complicated for the parents after Harmon was arrested in February 2020 for his involvement in an accident that resulted in death. He was charged with murder, Level 3 felony aggravated battery, Level 4 felony leaving the scene of an accident, and Level 6 felony leaving the scene of an accident. Released on bond in the winter of 2020, Harmon has a jury trial scheduled for September 2021.

Morrison moved to Michigan permanently with B.H. after the accident, prompting Harmon to file, in Indiana, a petition to establish paternity, custody, and support. A similar petition was filed by Morrison in Michigan, where she also filed a motion to determine jurisdiction and, in Indiana, a motion to stay the proceedings and for a determination of inconvenient forum.

The Delaware Circuit Court initially concluded that Indiana was the proper forum for the case. It later ruled that Harmon could have alternating weekends with his son until further order of the court, that the parents would meet at the halfway point in Indiana between their respective homes for the exchange, and that Harmon would pay $85 per week in child support based on his weekly income of $706.

The Indiana Court of Appeals had no qualms with that decision, affirming in In Re: The Paternity of Kelsey Morrison v. Aaron Harmon, 20A-JP-02387.

It disagreed with Morrison that Indiana was an inconvenient forum for the paternity proceedings based on several factors, including, among others, Harmon’s current pending criminal charges and the fact that his evidence existed in Indiana whereas Morrison’s existed in both Indiana and Michigan.

It also declined to hear Morrison’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded the parties joint legal custody of their son, pointing out that her own counsel already told the trial court that custody was not an issue because the parties had already agreed to joint legal custody.

Neither did the trial court abuse its discretion when it awarded Harmon parenting time in Indiana on alternating weekends, the COA concluded. It noted that the option for the noncustodial parent to exercise parenting time was not available to him because Harmon had “restrictions on leaving the State at the current time.”

Lastly, the COA found no issue with the child support order and observed that Morrison’s “failure to support her one-paragraph argument with citations to authority and record evidence results in waiver of the issue on appeal.”

Although concurring with the majority, Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote separately only to point out that, for initial child custody determinations, the trial court is required to follow Indiana Code Chapter 31-21-5.

“The trial court properly found Indiana to be B.H.’s home state, but the trial court failed to follow the (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act) procedures in doing so,” Tavitas opined. “Although the trial court did not cite to the UCCJA, the trial court did make findings consistent with Indiana exercising jurisdiction pursuant to Indiana Code Section 31-21-5- 1. I find, however, that the trial court did not abide by Indiana Code Section 31-21-5-6 because the trial court knew of the Michigan proceedings at the time of the hearing on the Indiana child custody proceedings, and the statute required the trial court to stay the Indiana proceedings and communicate with the Michigan court.”

Amelia J. Bell

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