Thursday, April 14, 2011

Letting Children Decide Parenting Time

Over the years I have been involved in some of the most notorious and bitterly contested custody cases in the state. Still I encounter new situations that come close to shocking me.

The latest that peaked my interest was a mother going off on the father about his acknowledgement that their child had called him to alter the parenting time schedule. Before I get into the juicy details of the mother's tirade let's first examine what the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines have to say on this subject.

One of the basic needs of a child is "To be free from having to side with either parent and to be free from conflict between the parents."

In regards to communication about parenting time the guidance is "All communications concerning a child shall be conducted between the parents."

As for adjusting parenting time the guidance is "Whenever there is a need to adjust the established parenting schedules because of events outside the normal family routine, the parent who becomes aware of the circumstance shall notify the other parent as far in advance as possible. Both parents shall then attempt to reach a mutually acceptable adjustment to the parenting schedule."

So the child calls Father and requests that a change be made for the mid-week parenting time because of a conflict with a school function. Father had no objection to the change in the parenting time. However, I had previously instructed him that all communication between he and Mother should be in writing. He also knew that this scheduling modification is something that should be communicated between the parents.

Father then sent an email to Mother simply stating the facts and reinforcing that the decisions to make parenting time changes should not involve the child:

"I just received a call from [our child] asking if she could switch my parenting time from next Wednesday the 13th to Tuesday the 12th due to a school event she is participating in. Please confirm that you in fact asked her to call and make the switch and that this is your request. The switch is fine with me and I appreciate the advanced notice, but these types of conversations should be kept between us as to keep [our child] out of the middle of adult situations and scheduling issues. If I was unable to make the change that would make me out to be the bad guy and I don't appreciate you putting me in such a position."

This is in a form that reflects what I have instructed him to do and was done so without any review or editing by me. The only suggestion I had for him on this one after the fact was to modify the last sentence to not be centered on him but to instead read, "If I was unable to make the change that would make me one of us out to be the bad guy by giving her an expectation that we were unable to accommodate. We should not put her in such a position."

Mother responded to Father's email in a rather accusatory and combative nature. This has been her mode for eight years and, I believe, although both parents had carried on in this manner she was the primary reason that these litigants have been to the Indiana Supreme Court and back already with the case currently headed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Attorney fees have exceeded a quarter million dollars.

Here is Mother's response; "If you are willing to switch your day to Tuesday, April 12 so [our child] can participate in the talent show, then I agree to the switch.  Also, the talent show is on Thursday, April 14 @ 6:30.  In regard to the phone call, I did not ask [our child] to call you.  Rather, [our child] simply came home from school yesterday excited that she had made it into the talent show this year and asked to participate.  I looked at the paper and noticed that the rehearsal is on a Wednesday (which is your parenting time evening), so I simply told [our child] that before I could tell her yes or no for sure, I would have to talk to you and get your permission for her to go during your parenting time (as to not undermine your authority since we have joint custody).  She was excited about making the cut for the show and couldn't wait to ask you, so she asked me if she could call you and ask about it immediately.  I told her she could call you, as I always do when she asks to call you.  I am not sure what you want me to do[]?  On one hand, I have numerous emails where you accuse me of not permitting [our child] to have access with you via phone and now you are upset that I allowed [our child] to call you when she asked to do so.  Would you have preferred for me to tell her that she couldn't call you?  Either you want to be involved in decisions regarding [our child] or you don't.  Regardless, I am not going to always be the one to break upsetting news to [our child] because you won't allow her to participate in activities during your parenting time.  Being a parent means you sometimes have to be the bad guy.  Further, I am not going to allow you to once again knit pick everything I do.  Since we are still under a court order to participate in parenting time coordination with Dr. Ferraro, I am forwarding all communication to him for his review and file.  I know that misery loves company, but that is an invitation to a party that I will not be attending with you." [emphasis added by me]

Although it is fine for Mother to allow the child to call her father she should have made it clear that it was between the parents to decide this issue. Mother fails to understand the nuances of appropriate responsibilities for the child with respect to communication between the parents.

Mother forwarded both emails to Dr Ferraro. His response included; "An effort to be less reactive and more businesslike in your response would be productive. Specifically, it would seem that the last 10 sentences did not contribute significantly to the resolution of the matter at hand."

To effectively co-parent it is necessary to put aside past differences, blame and desire for justification or retribution. Mother still fails to understand that it is time to put the interest of their child ahead of her desire to bring Father down.

The newly appointed parenting time coordinator must already be wondering why Mother has custody of the child when she has such a combative attitude and refuses to make simple decisions without involving the PTC. She has previously told Father that the PTC must decide the issue of whether the parties could switch transportation responsibilities for one of the mid-week parenting time days. They would each still transport one way but flip the usual he pick up, she drop off.

With him being ordered to pay 75% of the PTC fees it is clear to see her motivation in wanting every issue to go to the PTC.

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©2008, 2011 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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