Indiana Child Custody Lawyers Talk New State Parenting Time Guidelines

More than a decade in the making, the newest Indiana parenting time guidelines have been adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court, and are formally in effect as of March 1. handinhand.jpg

Our Gary child custody lawyers know that the updated version is child-focused and emphasizes parental cooperation in each child custody case.

However, the high court stresses that these guidelines are just that: a general foundation for how judges, parents, lawyers and advocates should approach the entire process. They aren’t rules set in stone, so judges will still maintain a fair amount of flexibility for special circumstances or situations.

As of 2010, less than 50 percent of households in Indiana are those headed by both husband and wife. Nearly 15 percent are single households headed by mothers with no husband, while about half that are single father households.

In addition to underscoring to all parties that the core consideration through all of this is the well-being of the children, the 33-page document helps to resolve some of the areas of family law that were previously somewhat unclear or ambiguous in Indiana.

Up until now, family law judges were left largely to their own discretion in setting up a “reasonable” schedule for visitation. For many families involved, that often meant that you were at the mercy of the judge and her philosophy. In the end, that resulted in great disparities in visitation schedules throughout the state.

These guidelines are meant to institute greater uniformity. Additionally, the whole concept of “visitation” has basically been tossed out the window. What courts are now expected to help regulate and enforce is the amount of “parenting time” that each parent has with the children. It’s a recognition that the time parents spend with their children is of greater value than just a “visit.”

Some of the new guidelines specifically address matters of expanded technology with regard to parent-to-parent communications. For example, parents have to exchange e-mail addresses. Frequent communication by both parents regarding the child through phone calls, e-mail or video chats is encouraged.

Another area that received specific attention was communication between the non-custodial parent and the school system. There has historically been a lot of contention in this area because it was deemed the custodial parent’s responsibility to inform the other parent about major events, parent-teacher conferences and grades. The new guidelines spell out that the non-custodial parent has every right to contact their child’s school directly and to be informed about these types of things.

The court also strongly recommends that parents work out holiday schedules six months to a year in advance. Sitting down with a calendar and hashing it out ahead of time can avoid conflict. Additionally, there were a number of holidays that were added to the list of those that must be negotiated, including President’s Day and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are now considered a single holiday and the Christmas vacation is divided in two. Plus, the summer vacation is also now divided in two.

Historically, family law courts were slammed around the holidays, with a flood of parents filing complaints or requests to change the schedule. These guidelines are intended to reduce conflict around these times.

Of course, there will always be families where conflict is seemingly inevitable. The new parenting guidelines have an entire section devoted to those who fall in this category. “High conflict” parents are defined as those for whom there is a pattern of ongoing anger, mistrust, inability to cooperate or communicate and litigation. In these cases, the judge can enact measures that will limit the parents’ communication, with exceptions for emergencies. There are also designations for responsibility of the parent who is “on-duty” and the one who is “off-duty.”

Your child custody attorney will be in the best position to explain these new guidelines and to protect the irreplaceable relationship you have with your child.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
New child-custody guidelines focus on parent cooperation, Feb. 24, 2013, By Rebecca S. Green, The Journal Gazette
More Blog Entries:
Steps to Take If Divorce is part of Your 2013 Plans, Jan. 4, 2013, Gary Child Custody Lawyer Blog