Saturday, November 20, 2010

Indiana Rules Drafted for Parenting Time Coordination

The Domestic Relations Committee of the Indiana Judicial Center met on Friday 22 October 2010 in regular session. The morning portion of the meeting was a joint session between the Domestic Relations Committee and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee for the purpose of discussing a draft proposal for Parenting Time Coordination.

Subcommittees of those two committees had worked together on the proposed rules for parenting time coordination which was presented as a draft as the Indiana Rules for Parenting Coordination.

It was the intention of the committees when drafting these rules that Parenting Time Coordination [PTC] should be used as a last resort and that mediation or other alternatives first be sought. They do not believe it is intended for all cases but only high-conflict parties.

PTC has been ordered when agreed to by the parties who pay the costs. However, a recent opinion has just come down about PTC which I will write about separately. It is usually a result of the judge encouraging the parties to seek resolution of their disputed issues before returning to contest them in court.

Parties engaged in PTC pay a retainer and sign a contract that stipulates the costs to the parties. Hourly rates vary between $50-$200 in current cases. Mark Lloyd, Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee Chair, stated that it costs much less for the parties to sit down with a Parenting Coordinator [PC] than to continue paying two attorneys to litigate the issues. Johnson County has a provision for indigent parties to have Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) opportunities.

Judge Thomas Milligan, Montgomery County Superior Court, stated that the most contentious and litigious cases involve pro se parties. This is the same thing that I have found to be true as most of my clients for litigation coaching [LINK] have either spent themselves into poverty fighting or have been rejected by or fired attorneys who will not carry forth with frivolous battles.

Currently 15 states have rules or statutes on PTC. Some states permit PTC to be ordered without agreement of the parties. However, a judge can't require the parties to pay for it if a judge orders it. Hendricks Superior Court Judge Karen Love said she has forced it on parties who didn't want it but after participating were glad they did. Johnson County has a program that pays for PTC for parties who are indigent but ordered into PTC by the judge.

One of my legislative proposals for the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly will require that the parties in a disputed child custody action meet with a mediator before appearing in court. The mediator will provide an initial report to the court about what the contested issues are and what he or she believes the degree of conflict between the parties to be.

Judges need to be educated on the availability and benefits of PTC so they will recommend or push it on the parties. Having established rules will make the process more effective and help judges to feel more secure in ordering or facilitating PTC.

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