Thursday, February 16, 2012

2012 Amendments to Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines - Specific Parenting Time Provisions

After a two year process the proposed revisions to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines [IPTG] have now been posted on the Indiana Judiciary web-page. The Domestic Relations Committee of the Indiana Judicial Center [DRC] -- the body responsible for writing the IPTG -- will be accepting public comment on the proposed revisions until Monday, 26 March 2012 .

For the past two years I have been attending the DRC meetings and presenting proposals or providing feedback as requested. I will be analyzing each of the amended sections individually and providing commentary on the changes. Today I continue with my sixth posting - Specific Parenting Time Provisions

The introduction includes an addition to emphasize the importance of the parents agreeing to a plan for the children that best suits them. Judges have repeatedly told me that they do not like having the burden of making these decisions placed on them when parents cannot agree. I have sought to have the parental designations changed to parents who share rights and responsibilities to try to eliminate any power structure associated with the current custodial designations. The DRC has included specific language cautioning parents that the titles used are not to be construed as to diminish or elevate a parent's status.

Here is the proposed -- revised in bold type -- portion: Introduction

"The best parenting plan is one created by parents which fulfills the unique needs of the child and the parents. Parents should attempt to create their own parenting plan which is in the best interests of the child. If an agreement is reached, the parenting plan shall be reduced to writing, signed by both parties, and filed for approval by the court in order to be enforceable. When the parties cannot reach an agreement on a parenting plan, the specific provisions which follow are designed to assist parents and the court in the development of a parenting plan. They represent the minimum recommended time a parent should have to maintain frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with a child.

For identification purposes, the following provisions set forth parenting time for the noncustodial parent and assume the other parent has sole custody or primary physical custody in a joint legal custody situation. These identifiers are not meant to diminish or raise either person’s status as a parent."

Much concern was shown by the members that the provisions concerning overnight parenting time seemed arbitrary and that a parent who could provided regular care should not then be presumed unable to do so for a specific time period simply because of a divorce or separation. They also acknowledged the importance of frequent and regular contact for infants and toddlers to have with both parents and that the sooner this can happen the better it is for the child. The Committee has proposed a Phase-In plan to help accelerate greater parenting time for the child with the NCP.

Here are the proposed -- revised in bold type -- portions: Overnight parenting time and Phase In.

"Unless it can be demonstrated that the non-custodial parent has not had regular care responsibilities for the child, parenting time shall include overnights as provided in Regular Parenting Time, II. E. below. If the non-custodial parent has not previously exercised regular care responsibilities for the child, then overnights should be phased in." [This appears as a new section in the draft revisions but that is only because it has been moved]

"Phase In: If the non-custodial parent who did not initially have regular care responsibilities has consistently and regularly exercised the scheduled parenting time under these guidelines for at least nine (9) continuous months, regular overnight parenting time may take place as provided in Section II. E. below."

The commentary has been expanded to include very specific direction as to progressively getting the child to the point of significant and meaningful parenting time with the NCP.

Here is the proposed -- revised in bold type -- commentary

"1. Assumptions. The provisions identify parenting time for the non-custodial parent. The provisions assume both parents are fit and proper, both parents have adequately bonded with the child, and both parents are willing to parent the child. They further assume the parents are respectful of each other and will cooperate with each other to promote the best interests of the child. Finally, the provisions assume each parent is responsible for the nurturing and care of the child. Parenting time is both a right and a trust and parents are expected to assume full responsibility for the child during their individual parenting time. When these assumptions do not apply, the judge should craft an order which fits the best interests of the child.

2. Lack of Contact. Where there is a significant lack of contact between a parent and a child, there may be no bond, or emotional connection, between the parent and the child. It is recommended that scheduled parenting time be “phased in” to permit the parent and child to adjust to their situation. It may be necessary for an expert to evaluate the current relationship (or lack thereof) between the parent and the child and recommend a schedule. It may be necessary for an evaluation of the current relationship (or lack thereof) between the parent and the child in order to recommend a parenting time plan. A guardian ad litem, a mental health professional, a representative from a domestic relations counseling bureau or any other neutral evaluator may be used for this task.

Completion of each stage of the phased in parenting time is not required. It is not the intent of this section to require a non-custodial parent to progress through each stage of the child’s life as set out in this phased in parenting time, from infancy through age 5. For example, if the non-custodial parent begins the phased in parenting time when the child is 3 months of age, and later can demonstrate the ability to perform regular care responsibilities, the non-custodial parent’s parenting time need not be restricted by the remaining stages. The test should not simply be the child’s age, but should include consideration of the non-custodial parent’s participation as a caregiver and the best interests of the child. A non-custodial parent who provides regular care responsibilities may be able to skip one or more of the stages and enjoy unrestricted regular overnight parenting time.

The next section will cover Phased in Parenting Time.

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More information about child custody rights and procedures may be found on the Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates website.

©2012 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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