Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 Amendments to Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines - Phased in Parenting Time

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 seventh posting - Phased in Parenting Time

Here is the unaltered introduction to Phased in Parenting Time

"The first few years of a child's life are recognized as being critical to that child's ultimate development. Infants (under eighteen months) and toddlers (eighteen months to three years) have a great need for continuous contact with the primary care giver who provides a sense of security, nurturing and predictability. It is thought best if scheduled parenting time in infancy be minimally disruptive to the infant's schedule."

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

Overnight contact between parents and very young children can provide opportunities for them to grow as a family. At the same time, when very young children experience sudden changes in their night time care routines, especially when these changes include separation from the usual caretaker, they can become frightened and unhappy. Under these circumstances, they may find it difficult to relax and thrive, even when offered excellent care.

When a very young child is accustomed to receiving regular, hands-on care from both parents, the child should continue to receive this care when the parents separate. Regardless of custodial status, a parent who has regularly cared for the child prior to separation should be allowed to exercise overnight parenting time. When a parent has not provided regular hands-on care for the child prior to separation, overnight parenting time may be phased in as provided below, until the parent and the child have developed a predictable and comfortable daytime care taking routine. “Regular care” for the child may also include a parent who is employed outside of the home, provides income for the household and has otherwise bonded with the child.

The commentary provides some subtle yet distinct and important changes. The existing rule provides that a parent who has regularly cared for the child prior to separation should be "encouraged" to exercise overnight parenting time. That parent shall now be "allowed" overnights instead of being encouraged. This is essentially a burden shift that no longer requires a court to take an affirmative step to foster overnights and instead would shift the burden to finding cause that the parent shall not have overnights.

The second change was to allow the court to take the affirmative step of phasing in overnights when a parent has not exercised regular care responsibilities. This removes the quasi-prohibition that overnight parenting time "is not recommended". The presumptive shift as proposed will favour giving infants a greater bonding opportunity with both parents.

The final proposed change is an expansion on the definition of "regular care". Courts and practitioners in my observations have held to a strict interpretation of the term which required the NCP to have actually performed the tasks of care such as feeding, nurturing, changing diapers and supervision. No such burden was placed on custodial parents, however, who could employ others to perform such tasks and still be presumed the fit parent for all overnights. This expanded definition removes the implicit requirement of having to had performed all care activities.

I am not satisfied with the revisions to this section although some of the changes I felt were important were included I did want to see an increase in the minimum parenting time for the NCP which is consistent with the current empirical data which suggests that infants benefit from an increase in that minimum time. I will posit that recommendation again.

The next section will cover Regular Parenting Time.

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©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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