One of the most frequently asked questions by separated parents is – “When will I be able to see my children?” When parents cannot otherwise agree, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) set out the minimum standards for parenting time for the non-custodial parent. The Guidelines set out a regular schedule, a holiday schedule, as well as extended parenting time. The Guidelines are in place to make sure that each parent has the ability to exercise regular and frequent contact with their children, not to limit one parent’s access to children. Even when the Court enters an Order granting the non-custodial parent parenting time pursuant to the Guidelines, that does not mean that the parents cannot agree between themselves to allow more parenting time.
There is a presumption that it is in the best interest of a child to be with their parent, instead of being cared for by someone else. The Guidelines incorporate this presumption in Section I(C)(3), as follows:
Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time
When it becomes necessary that a child be cared for by a person other than a parent or a responsible household family member, the parent needing the child care shall first offer the other parent the opportunity for additional parenting time, if providing the child care by the other parent is practical considering the time available and the distance between residences. The other parent is under no obligation to provide the child care. If the other parent elects to provide this care, it shall be done at no cost and without affecting child support. The parent exercising additional parenting time shall provide the necessary transportation unless the parties otherwise agree.
This segment is often incorrectly referred to as the “Right of First Refusal.” But what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that my kids can’t spend the night with their grandparents on my weekends? Does this mean that my boyfriend or girlfriend can’t watch my kids while I am at work? The answer to both of those questions – It depends.
Additional parenting time comes into play when you need someone else to provide care for your child. A “responsible household family member” is defined as an adult person residing in the household, who is related to the child by blood, marriage or adoption. By definition, your boyfriend or girlfriend would be excluded from the definition, but the time needed for this person to watch the child may be limited and not require you to contact the other parent. While your 18 year old step-child is an adult and related by marriage, is s/he responsible enough to care for your children, rather than offering the other parent this time? Each case is fact sensitive. For example, if your child is staying with grandparents every weekend because you work, you may need to offer the other parent the opportunity to care for the child. On the other hand, this rule is meant to be practical. If your child spends the night with grandparents on special occasions, it may not trigger the requirement to offer time to the other parent.
Other important considerations are the time needed for care and the distance between the parents. If you and the other parent live 20 miles apart, is it feasible to ask the other parent to watch the child for 30 minutes after school? If you are going out for the evening and will be gone for several hours, that same distance may not be an issue. Keep in mind, however, when the other parent agrees to exercise additional parenting time, they are responsible for providing transportation. If you call the other parent and ask them to watch the child while you work, it is anticipated that the other parent will come to your home, pick up the child, and then return the child to you once you are home from work. If you and the other parent agree otherwise, then other transportation arrangements can be made.
Sometimes, parents are upset that the other parent will not agree to watch the child and they have to hire a babysitter. There is no obligation for the other parent to provide care for the children during your parenting time. You do not have to pay the other parent to care for the children, and it does not affect child support. If the custodial parent is asking you to watch the children overnight 3 days a week for an extended period of time, it may be more than just additional parenting time. This may constitute a change in circumstances warranting a modification of parenting time. Again, each case is fact sensitive, and it may be worthwhile to consult counsel to determine if the specific facts of your case warrant a change in the ordered parenting time, or to determine if you can enforce your right to additional parenting time.