Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Amendments to Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines - Exchange of Information

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. Today I continue with my fourth posting - Exchange of Information.

Previously the responsibility for obtaining and sharing information from service providers such as schools and medical professionals was the responsibility of the custodial parent. The basis for this rule had been that it was presumed that the custodial parent, the legal decision maker, was the party that had easiest access to the information since he or she was the primary contact with the service providers.

Some parents shirked this responsibility or intentionally tried to keep the NCP from having access to records or information as a way to inhibit that parent's involvement with the child. Those cases have necessarily required the coercive involvement of the courts. At other times I have had parents who wanted to use this rule to rack-up additional points for a contempt petition. It was not based upon being shut out or missing anything as they had already obtained the information on their own. I have sternly rebuked these contentions and refused to engage in such shenanigans.

Technological advances and law have made much of this requirement superfluous. Email notices, data sent to PDAs or the availability of web-based information place virtually no additional burden upon the service providers other than to enter a contact point or establish a password. Specific laws, which are noted later in this post, provide both parents with rights of access to records related to their children.

There is, however, a much more important reason for this rule modification. The DRC is very cognizant of the proposition that children thrive and do best following divorce or separation when they have two actively involved parents. This rule change is intended to reduce the burden on parents of providing copies of records and conflicts that may arise but also to get both parents known to and actively involved with the providers of services for the children.

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

"Parents should obtain and share information about their children. Parents should take the initiative to obtain information about their child from the various providers of services. Each parent is responsible to establish a relationship with the child’s school, health care provider and other service provider. A child may suffer inconvenience, embarrassment, and physical or emotional harm when parents fail to actively obtain and share information."

Here is the proposed -- revised in bold type -- portion: School Records.

"Under Indiana law, both parents are entitled to direct access to their child's school records, Indiana Code § 20-33-7-2. Each parent should obtain school information on their own without depending on the other parent. A parent shall not interfere with the right of the other parent to communicate directly with school personnel concerning a child. The noncustodial parent shall be listed as an emergency contact unless there are special circumstances concerning child endangerment."

The commentary, citing the IC, has been adapted into the rule. One would think that an institution that is charged with the responsibility of training children to be a resource for corporate production would be run by overpaid administrators who are not functionally illiterate. Such is not the case though. I have often been sought to assist parents in obtaining school records and have had to read the law to the administrators to facilitate compliance. The parent having sent it to them was not enough so do not be surprised if it becomes necessary to read it for them.

Another point of discussion was listing the NCP as an emergency contact. I have been involved in cases where it became necessary to obtain a court order to compel the custodial parent to list the NCP as an emergency contact and I relayed these anecdotes to the DRC. Again, the idea is to have both parents involved with the service providers. Ensuring that both parents have an opportunity to participate in school activities is another way of accomplishing this goal.

Here is the proposed -- revised in bold type -- portion: School Activities.

"Each parent shall promptly notify the other parent of all information about school activities, which is not accessible to the other parent. A parent shall not interfere with the right of the other parent to communicate directly with school personnel concerning a child's school activities. The parent exercising parenting time shall be responsible to transport the child to school related activities."

Each parent with knowledge of the child’s event should promptly inform the other parent of the date, time, place and event. The opportunity for a child to attend a school function should not be denied solely because a parent is not able to attend the function. The child should be permitted to attend the function with the available parent. Scheduled parenting time should not be used as an excuse to deny the child's participation in school related activities, including practices and rehearsals.

In keeping with the spirit of only requiring the exchange of information necessary to accomplish the goal of parental participation and the involvement of both parents the rule was modified to only require furnishing information to the parent when it was not otherwise available. The commentary to this rule provides that it is applicable to both parents without regard to custodial status. All of this applies to other activities also.

Here is the proposed -- revised in bold type -- portion: Other Activities.

"Each parent shall promptly notify the other parent of all organized events in a child's life which permit parental and family participation. A parent shall not interfere with the opportunity of the other parent to volunteer for or participate in a child's activities."

Each parent should have the opportunity to participate in other activities involving the child even when that activity does not occur during his or her parenting time. This includes activities such as church functions, athletic events, scouting and the like. It is important to understand that a child is more likely to enjoy these experiences when support by both parents.

I have added "when" above. The commentary to this section goes straight to the point of what I have been saying about the DRC trying to encourage the involvement of both parents. This is not so much new commentary as it is a rewording of the existing language.

Here is the proposed -- revised in bold type -- portion: Health Information.

"Under Indiana law, both parents are entitled to direct access to their child's medical records, Indiana Code § 16-39-1-7; and mental health records, Indiana Code § 16-39-2-9.
a. If a child is undergoing evaluation or treatment, the custodial parent shall communicate that fact to the non-custodial parent.
b. Each parent shall immediately notify the other of any medical emergencies or illness of the child that requires medical attention.
c. If a child is taking prescription medication or under a health care directive, the custodial parent shall provide the noncustodial parent with a sufficient amount of medication and instructions whenever the noncustodial parent is exercising parenting time. Medical instructions from a health care provider shall be followed.
d. If necessary, the custodial parent shall give written authorization to the child's health care providers, permitting an ongoing release of all information regarding the child to the non-custodial parent including the right of the provider to discuss the child's situation with the non-custodial parent."

Each parent has the responsibility to become informed and participate in ongoing therapies and treatments prescribed for a child and to ensure that medications are administered as prescribed. An evaluation or treatment for a child includes medical, dental, educational, and mental health services.

Again, the citing of the IC has been moved from the commentary to the rule. Just like with school records one would hope that a medical care provider would be literate enough to read and understand the law. But such is not always the case. I once had to write a suit against a medical service provider who refused to allow the NCP access to the child's records.

This was after a lengthy email exchange in which the provider was furnished a copy of the law and rulings by the Indiana Court of Appeals. The mother, however, was an alienator who had engaged in every act of parental alienation and solicited others in her attempt to remove the father from the lives of the children. Once sued and after racking up almost $1000 in legal fees between two attorneys the provider furnished the records and became very cooperative.

The final portion relates to insurance information and has not changed. Parents are still required to furnish insurance cards or other documentation to each other.

The next section will cover scope of application.

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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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