Welcome to Lake County, Indiana

 
Lake County Indiana - Judicial Section
JUDICIAL OFFICERS
Senior Judge Thomas P. Stefaniak, Jr. – Court Room #7
Magistrate Jeffrey L. Miller – Court Room #1
Magistrate Robert G. Vann – Court Room #2
Magistrate Aimee M. Talian – Court Room #3
Referee Timothy Haraminac – Court Room #4
Magistrate Matthew B. Gruett – Court Room #6
Magistrate Katherine Garza – Court Room #8
Magistrate Timothy Ormes – IV-D Gary
CASE TYPES
The Lake County Superior Court, Juvenile Division (Juvenile Court) is a court of limited jurisdiction and has subject matter jurisdiction over only those cases established by statute. All case assignments are civil in nature, not criminal. Specifically, the Juvenile Court receives the following case assignments: Child in Need of Service (CHINS) proceedings, termination of parental rights proceedings, juvenile delinquency and status offenses, paternity proceedings (both privately initiated and state authorized), adoptions and guardianships. The Juvenile Court is also responsible for the following miscellaneous case assignments: grandparent visitation proceedings, informal adjustments, and collaborative care proceedings.
 
Child In Need of Services (CHINS)
The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) initiates a CHINS proceeding with the filing of a Petition alleging that a child meets one or more of several statutory criteria.  A CHINS proceeding is not fault based, but, rather is focused upon the status of the child. Upon the filing of a CHINS petition by DCS, the matter is presented before the Juvenile Court. The purpose of a CHINS proceeding is to rectify the conditions, circumstances and/or needs of the child, which necessitated the filing of the CHINS petition. The primary focus of a CHINS proceeding is to reunify the child with the individual(s) who had custody at the time of DCS’ intervention. As a means of accomplishing reunification, the Juvenile Court will order DCS to develop a case plan, which may include a variety of therapeutic, substance abuse, mental/emotional health, case management, out-of-home placement, and visitation services to be provided to the child and family. If reunification with the custodial parent/custodian is unable to be effectuated, the Juvenile Court will consider alternative options in order to provide the child with a safe and permanent outcome. The intent of the Juvenile Court is to utilize the least intrusive and/or restrictive means available, while allowing for family autonomy and parental involvement. The goal is to achieve permanency for the child in the form of a safe, stable, and healthy environment which allows the child to thrive and develop without fear of future injury or instability.
For more information on CHINS proceedings and the role of DCS, please refer to the Indiana Department of Child Services webpage at www.in.gov/dcs
 
Termination of Parental Rights
A petition to terminate parental rights may be filed as voluntary or involuntary. For a child who has been found to be a Child In Need of Services (CHINS), a petition to involuntarily terminate parental rights may be filed by the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), a Guardian Ad Litem or a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). The basis for filing such a petition is that continuation of the parent child relationship poses a threat to the well being of the child and/or the conditions which resulted in the child’s removal from the home have not been remedied. Each parent is entitled to legal representation during the pendency of the termination of parental rights proceeding. If the petition to terminate parental rights is granted, the parental relationship is permanently severed, as well as any previously existing rights, privileges, and powers. Furthermore, if a petition to adopt the child is subsequently filed, the consent of the biological parents will not be necessary.
If a biological parent(s) wishes to pursue termination of their parental rights, they may seek the assistance of either DCS or a licensed child placing agency, who, on behalf of a parent(s), may file a petition with the Juvenile Court to voluntarily terminate parental rights. A biological parent will be required to execute a statutorily proper informed consent, indicating their understanding of their rights and desire to terminate parental rights to the child. Upon granting the petition to terminate parental rights, the child is free to be adopted and the consents of the biological parents are unnecessary.  
 
Juvenile Delinquency and Status Offenses
A child commits a delinquent act if, before becoming eighteen years of age, the child commits an act that would be an offense if committed by an adult. Status offenses are acts of juvenile delinquency which are unique to juveniles and not able to be committed by adults, including truancy and runaway. Juvenile delinquency referrals are received by an intake officer at the Juvenile Court primarily from law enforcement agencies, but may also be provided by different sources, including schools and parents. If taken into custody by a law enforcement agency, the child may either be released to a parent, guardian, or custodian or be taken to the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center for a detention hearing. Every child has a right to be represented by an attorney, whether privately retained or publicly appointed by the Juvenile Court.  At the detention hearing, the Juvenile Court will consider the necessity of keeping the child detained, until further hearing. Beyond the detention hearing, juvenile delinquency referrals are assigned to the Probation Department. Additionally, the Prosecutor’s Office must determine whether to file a formal juvenile delinquency petition with the Juvenile Court. Once a child has been adjudicated to have committed a delinquent act, it is the intention of the Juvenile Court to formulate a plan which focuses upon early intervention and prevention of further delinquent acts and/or the continuation of such behaviors beyond the child’s minority. To that end, the Juvenile Court utilizes rehabilitative programs and services which tend to divert children from incarceration. However, if necessary, the Juvenile Court may implement a commitment to the Indiana Department of Corrections for those juveniles who are uncooperative with programs/services and/or continue to demonstrate delinquent behaviors. 
 
Paternity Proceedings
A child benefits from establishing a healthy relationship with both parents. To that end, it is critically important for a putative father to establish himself as a legal father. Upon the establishment of paternity, a child receives access to Social Security dependent or survivor benefits, inheritance rights, Veteran’s benefits, and life health insurance benefits. The State of Indiana has adopted two methods for the establishment of paternity: 1) executing a paternity affidavit and 2) filing a petition to establish paternity in a court of proper jurisdiction.  Once a petition to establish paternity is filed with the Juvenile Court, it must be determined whether paternity needs to be established or whether there is a sufficient legal basis to contest a previously executed paternity affidavit. A putative father only has sixty days from the date of execution to contest the paternity affidavit. If a paternity affidavit has not previously been executed, a putative father or mother has a right to request genetic (DNA) testing to assist with the determination of paternity. Genetic testing must be completed by an accredited laboratory. Upon establishing paternity, the Juvenile Court must address issues of child support, arrears, custody, parenting time, tax exemptions, and name change. Child support payments, which are calculated via a child support obligation worksheet, are ordered to be paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the maintenance and welfare of the child. Both mother and father may petition the Court for a formal order of custody. Custody is broken down into both legal and physical custody. Legal custody includes the right to make determinations regarding the child’s upbringing. Mother and father may elect to share custody of the child as well. Parenting time is awarded to the non-custodial parent. Absent evidence of physical threat or inhibition of mental/emotional health development, the non-custodial parent shall receive parenting time in accordance with the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, at a minimum. Issues of tax exemption and name change are evaluated by the Juvenile Court on a case-by-case basis. Following the initial establishment of child support, custody, visitation, etc. the parties may subsequently petition for modification thereto. Under Indiana law, a child is emancipated by operation of law upon attaining the age of nineteen.  For a child pursuing education beyond high school, a custodial parent may petition for post secondary education expenses. In the event that one party is not abiding by an order of the Juvenile Court, the aggrieved party may file a petition for relief, including contempt of court.    
 
For more information on establishing paternity, please go to www.LakeCountyKids.org.
 
For self-help assistance for Pro Se litigants, including access to court forms, please refer to the Self-Help Legal Center at www.courts.IN.gov.
 
Adoptions
Whether through formal placement with a pre-adoptive family by a licensed child placing agency or a relative, such as a grandparent(s) or step-parent, seeking to provide a permanent, stable home for a child, a petition for adoption may be filed with the Juvenile Court. When considering a petition for adoption the Juvenile Court must determine whether the biological parents have consented to the adoption, and, if not, is there a statutory exception which negates the need for parental consent. If a biological parent wishes to contest the petition for adoption, they are entitled to legal representation; however, the biological parent must adhere to statutory requirements to contest the adoption petition, before an attorney will be appointed. Additionally, the individual(s) petitioning for adoption must submit proof of completion of comprehensive criminal and child protective services background. The Juvenile Court may also order the petitioner(s) to make arrangements for a licensed child placing agency to complete a home study, before the petition for adoption is decided. Ultimately, it is the Juvenile Court’s responsibility to determine whether adoption by a petitioner(s) is in a child’s best interests. Upon the Juvenile Court granting a petition for adoption, a biological parent(s) parental rights are terminated and a Petitioner(s) become the legal parent(s) to the child, as though the child was born to the Petitioner(s).
 
For more information on licensed child placing agencies and adoptions generally, please refer to the Indiana Department of Child Services webpage at www.IN.gov/dcs 
 
Guardianships
Whenever a child is without a parent or legal caregiver, whether temporarily or permanently, any individual may petition the Juvenile Court to be appointed as a child’s legal guardian. Establishing guardianship over a child will provide an individual with the ability to legally exercise custody of a child, make legal decisions on behalf of a child, manage the property of a child, and receive support/benefits on behalf of the child. If necessary, a standby guardian may also be appointed for a child, in the event a guardian should become incapacitated or unable to continue serving in such capacity. A court appointed guardian may serve in such capacity until a child attains the age of eighteen years. A guardian is also responsible for filing biennial status reports and accountings of guardianship property with the Juvenile Court. 
 
FILING FEES
Adoption  $141.00
Guardianship  $161.00
Paternity  $180.00
Termination of Parental Rights   $160.00
 
*For all Case Types – Add $13.00 for Sheriff’s Service Fee (if service by Sheriff is requested)
 
PRO SE LITIGANTS
Understanding the legal rights and responsibilities of parties, navigating the procedures of litigation, and preparing and filing proper legal pleadings are complex tasks that place a heavy demand upon Pro Se litigants. Every party to a legal proceeding has a right to be heard and present their case before the Juvenile Court. However, doing so in an effective and efficient manner can be quite difficult without the assistance of legal counsel or receipt of proper advice/direction. As such, Pro Se litigants need to be aware of the valuable resources available through the State of Indiana. A litigant should be wary of conducting internet searches for legal forms and advisement of rights and/or responsibilities, as many internet sources are unverified, generic, or inapplicable to their cause. The most accurate and reliable self-help legal materials may be found on the State of Indiana website (www.IN.gov). With the oversight and approval of the Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana Pro Se and the Self-Service Legal Project have established a comprehensive Self-Service Legal Center for Pro Se litigants.  The website provides valuable information, legal forms, and available resources to assist litigants with representing themselves in court.
Although these sources are very valuable and provide effective assistance, it is a good idea for a litigant to consider hiring an attorney to represent him/her in court. Understanding that a litigant may either not feel the need to be represented by an attorney or have the ability to hire one, it should be known that there are several resources available which provide either pro bono or reduced fee legal representation to Pro Se litigants. Again, Indiana’s Self-Service Legal Center contains a wealth of information to help locate an attorney who can assist a litigant with their cause. Additionally, the Lake County Bar Association may assist Pro Se litigants with identifying attorneys and/or legal service agencies who are committed to providing pro bono or reduced fee legal representation.
 
For self-help assistance for Pro Se litigants, including access to court forms, please refer to the Self-Help Legal Center website at www.courts.IN.gov/judiciary/selfservice/.
 
For assistance with locating pro bono/reduced fee attorneys or legal service agencies, please refer to the Lake County Bar Association’s website at www.lakecountybar.com.