On a case of first impression in Indiana, Taft won a significant appellate victory on behalf of a victim of domestic abuse. Taft Indianapolis attorney Matt Albaugh represented our client pro bono as part of Taft’s continuing commitment to provide pro bono services to the communities we serve. It was the Indiana Court of Appeals’ first opportunity to interpret Indiana’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and the General Assembly’s inclusion of past instances of domestic violence as a factor for determining appropriate jurisdiction when competing child custody proceedings are filed in multiples states.
In this case, Taft’s client was the victim of repeated abuse by her husband, who “attacked her on multiple occasions” – including strangling, slapping, punching, and dragging her by her hair. She escaped back to her family with her infant child in Alabama, where she filed for custody and a protective order. The Alabama court entered a no-contact protective order against the husband and granted her custody.
The husband, in turn, filed for custody in Indiana, alleging Taft’s client “kidnapped” their child and was seeking a more favorable result in Alabama. Indiana initially entered an order granting the husband custody of the child.
Versions of Indiana’s UCCJEA have been adopted in 49 of the 50 states in response to the ongoing and epidemic issue of domestic violence in the United States. The UCCJEA updated its predecessor, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), to address issues of intimate partner violence, emergency jurisdiction, and the safety concerns of the courts. Most relevantly, the UCCJEA requires judges to carefully consider credible threats of violence when determining the forum for interstate child custody cases.
In this case, Indiana was the child’s “home state” for purposes of UCCJEA jurisdiction, but the court concluded that Alabama was the more appropriate jurisdiction for purposes of protecting the mother and child. In reaching its ruling, the court forcefully rejected the husband’s efforts “both to minimize the seriousness of domestic violence and to have this Court impose a heightened evidentiary standard for supporting claims of domestic violence” under the UCCJEA.
Taft’s team was led by Matt Albaugh, a long-time advocate for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV). ICADV is the state coalition for domestic violence programs in Indiana and filed an amicus brief in support of Taft’s client. Albaugh works with ICADV to identify legal issues relevant to the survivors of domestic abuse and affect positive change in the law through Indiana’s appellate courts.
The case is Shoemaker v. Shoemaker, Case No. 22A-DC-50 (Ind. Ct. App. June 20, 2022).
Albaugh is a partner in Taft's Litigation and Product Liability practice groups and leader of Taft’s M&A Litigation team, where he advises boards and executives on busted deals, corporate governance, fiduciary duties, and related matters.