Summary of the Proposed Changes to Indiana's Parenting Time Guidelines

A Summary of the Pending Proposed Changes to the Indiana’s Parenting Time Guidelines

The parenting time guidelines have been utilized as a guidepost for attorneys and divorcing parents for years.  Currently, there are a number of changes that have been proposed to these guidelines.  This blog post seeks to summarize the significant proposed changes.  To see the full set of current guidelines along with the proposed changes, click here.
The one area that the proposed guidelines focus on is the use of a parenting coordinator that will help facilitate visitations in some situations.  Proposed Rules 3-5 deal with the use of a parenting time coordinator including the adoption of rules governing them and a provision that provides immunity for them when executing their duties.
The next significant difference is the section defining a “child’s basic needs.” It has been moved from the comments section to the preamble section of the guidelines.  This seems to be an effort to indicate the importance of considering the children in creation of any plan involving parenting time.
Comment 4 has been added to the child’s basic needs section.  This new comment suggests the important role a parenting time plan or calendar can play in the governing of parenting time.  The comment specifically recommends parents use of an actual calendar to set out and plan for the entire year.  This can be especially helpful in planning out vacations, holidays, and/or extended school breaks.
Section 2, Scope and Application, adds a new category for “high conflict parents.”  It defines high conflict parents as parties who demonstrate a pattern of ongoing litigation, chronic anger and distrust, inability to communicate about and cooperate in the care of the child, or other behaviors placing the child’s well-being at risk.  If parents fall into this category, the guidelines suggest that the Court should deviate from applying certain sections of the guidelines to this high conflict group.
Comment 5 to the Communication section basically adds and acknowledges modern communications.  It extends the guidelines on communication to include electronic communication.  Comment 7 encourages the modern forms of communication and specifically forebodes parents from interfering.  It mentions the use of video chat and Skype.  A comment about communication has also been added to stress the importance of allowing communication with parents and child and stresses the harm it may cause to the child if communication is either interfered with or monitored.
Under the comments section dealing with transportation for parenting time, proposed comments have been added to address the situation where an exchange is delayed.  In the event a scheduled exchange does not occur and no communication was made to explain the delay, then the parent that did not cause the delay shall have the right to re-schedule the exchange as they see fit.
Comments have been added to the “Changes in Parenting Time” section generally making it clear that it is the responsibility of both parents to follow the parenting time plan and that the children should not bear the responsibility of this process.  The comments also add a list of unacceptable excuses for denying parenting time.  Those invalid “excuses” include: the child unjustifiably hesitates or refuses to go, child has a minor illness, child is not home, child is somewhere else, noncustodial parent is behind on child support, custodial parent doesn’t want the child to go, the weather is bad, child doesn’t have clothes, or the noncustodial parent has failed to meet some precondition set by the custodial parent.  Should these comments be adopted, they should provide some clarity to some of the most common issues parents raise when refusing to allow parenting time.
The proposed changes include some clarification when the situation arises that the custodial parent must contact the noncustodial parent regarding additional parent time, when the custodial parent can’t care for the child.  The proposed changes limit the guideline to times when it is practical given the time and distance between the parents and puts the transportation responsibility on the parent wanting to exercise the additional parenting time, unless otherwise agreed.  The proposed change would also initiate the extra parenting time only when the parent or another household member is not available to care for the child.
Changes to the School records section have been proposed.  In the proposal each parent is individually responsible for getting school information on their own, as opposed to relying on the other parent.  Additionally, the changes would anticipate that the noncustodial parent will be listed as the emergency contact unless there is a safety issue that would prevent this.
In the Specific Parenting Time Provisions, two sections would be added that address the issue of overnight stays where the noncustodial parent hasn’t previously had regular care responsibilities. This phase in provision should apply only after 9 months of continuous visitation have been successfully completed.
The holiday visitation rules have been proposed to be changed.  In large part these changes are mostly an effort to make them more clear and written in an easier more readable fashion.
The remainder of the changes deal with the addition of the Parenting Coordinator for use in dealing with parenting issues, especially in those situations where there is high conflict.  The Parenting Coordinator can be a mental health professional or a legal professional with mediation training.  The proposed change would give the Judge the authority to appoint a neutral parenting coordinator with the consent of the parents or when it is in the best interest of the child.  The comments make it clear that the use of a parenting coordinator should be utilized only after a chronic breakdown has occurred regarding the parenting time and facilitating it.
The proposed changes define the role and authority of the parenting coordinator.  This includes, assisting in reducing conflict, serving as an assessor of the process, assisting in educating the parents on child development, helping serve as a coordinator, and engaging in conflict management.
As issues arise, the Parenting Coordinator may enter into agreements with the parties to be entered into by the Court.  When there are disputes brought before the Court, the Parenting Coordinator may submit recommended courses of action for the Court to take.  Basically, the Court can do with these recommendations as they see fit.  The proposed rules go into great detail requiring confidentiality, neutrality, and accountability.  In sum, the Parenting Coordinator is there for the high conflict situations where an expert in the field needs to intervene in an attempt to bring a neutral party into the picture to resolve the issues and assist the parents and the affected children.
The last area the proposed guidelines address is “parallel parenting”.  Parallel parenting is where matters are so high conflict that each parent will make decisions separate from the other while the child is in their care.  It anticipates the need of  the parents communicating in cases of emergency.  The proposed guideline also anticipates the need for this type of parenting to be temporary.
In conclusion, in large part, the recommended guideline changes address the issue of what to do when you have parents who are in long term high conflict situations.  The proposed changes go into more details and discussion and can be read in full by clicking here.