Saturday, July 11, 2009

Indiana Parenting Time - Minimal or More

The following came through yesterday afternoon as a comment to post on an entirely different topic:

(disclaimer: By the way, in no way am I solicting/initiating legal assistance from you nor requesting/developing a client - attorney relationship by asking these questions. I am only asking for an abstract of law/experience in a figurative case.)

Father has secondary custody and joint legal. Father has had daughter Monday a few hours after work, Weds a few hours after work, and the Friday it's not his weekend for 3 hours and of course every other weekend for 3 1/2 years. He wasn't wise in that he didn't read the entirety of the Indiana Parenting Guideline where it stated that when the child reaches school age parenting time for the father would fall to the Indiana Parenting time minimal. Father thought the Indiana Parenting Time Guide was primarily discussing proper co-parenting and missed the part about the minimal parenting time. Father asked for mediation in June 2008 whereby the parties agreed to postpone the opposition until said child reached first grade. Specific verbiage says Father has the right to continue petitioning for modification at that time. Father's primary argument is that the child has grown accustom to current parenting schedule for almost 4 years emotionally and mentally. Father states that the child and himself have grown accustom to their interrelationship that was/has developed under the current plan. Mother contends that father and new wife argue sometimes in front of the child. Thats her primary defense. The current parenting plan has not been modified as of yet but is subjec to change in August. Father is petitioning for modification in custody due to circumstantial changes. In all the years you've practiced law have you ever seen anything like this case wise? If so, what are your thoughts.
No, I have seen nothing like this. But that is the wonder of family law - people keep doing their own thing.

The Indiana Supreme Court created The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines for several purpose. First, Indiana needed to to systematize visitation throughout the State of Indiana - many counties had visitation guidelines that spanned from complex (Marion County) to the simplistic (Jay County comes to mind here). Second, the Guidelines were meant to be self-explanatory and for use by the parents without constantly returning to a court.

Having had them in operation for over half a decade, I am not so sure that the second purpose was so successful. Personally, I find the language regarding Christmas vacation poorly written. There are more troublesome and common problems:
  1. People not understanding the nature of the Guidelines. These are Guidelines and not rules or statutes. Comparing them with the Child Support Guidelines may make this point best. The Child Support Guidelines state they are guidelines for which deviations are possible. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines lay out the minimum rules for visitation/parenting time that a judge can order for the parents. ("The concept that these Guidelines represent the minimum time a non-custodial parent should spend with a child should not be interpreted as a limitation of time imposed by the court. They are not meant to foreclose the parents from agreeing to, or the court from granting, such additional or reduced parenting time as may be reasonable in any given case. ")
  2. People are not reading the Parenting Time Guidelines. Since you are reading this, do you have a copy of the IPTG on your computer or a bookmark to the page for the IPTG? You should have both. Hint: there is a link on right hand menu to the IPTG. For those without Internet access, it may be a bit more of a problem getting a copy. I know you could get a copy at the Court Administrator's office in the Madison County Government Center. For those outside of Madison County, check with your local courts if they have hard copies. What would be the best practice would be to provide a copy at every provisional hearing in a divorce and every paternity hearing but that is not done.
  3. People are not reading the Parenting Time Guidelines properly. By this I include the obscurely written bits mentioned above but also an improper method of reading. Somewhat like reading just one article on this blog and not reading the whole of what has been written on a subject. The IPTG must be read as a whole instead of a collection of parts. Think of trying to make sense of car by only looking at the tires and exhaust pipe.
  4. For cases where one or both parties are too quarrelsome for their own good, the Guidelines solve nothing. I will go so far as to say that in some cases they add fuel to the fire. Mediation is supposed to be the next step if the parties cannot solve matters between themselves ("1. Disagreements Generally. When a disagreement occurs regarding parenting time and the requirements of these Guidelines, both parents shall make every effort to discuss options, including mediation, in an attempt to resolve the dispute before going to court."). Which is never done here in Madison County - who can afford to pay both a mediator and a lawyer? Better to just get the matter back in front of a judge for adjusting the attitude of the parent creating the problem.
While writing the above-paragraphs, I realized that the Guidelines make no reference to the Indiana statutes on parenting time. Which is a bit odd come to think of it.

Thinking of the statutes lead me to count the references to bests interests of the child in the IPTG. I count two uses of that phrase. They appear more clearly in the statutes.
IC 31-17-4-2
Modification or denial; restriction of parenting time rights
Sec. 2. The court may modify an order granting or denying parenting time rights whenever modification would serve the best interests of the child. However, the court shall not restrict a parent's parenting time rights unless the court finds that the parenting time might endanger the child's physical health or significantly impair the child's emotional development.

One thing must be understood about family law: the best interests of the child are the paramount concern of the law. If anyone reading this read my other parenting time articles or just generally my articles will know that "best interests of the child" crops up too often to count.

The IPTG attempts nothing more than to provide a guide for parents to use. I think they assumed that parents would create a parenting plan that was in their child's best interests. Failing to work in their child's best interests, a judge must make a decision of what is in the child's best interests.

For other issues and articles on Indiana's Parenting Time Guidelines, take a look through my archive of parenting time articles and visitation articles.

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