Monday, March 23, 2015

Supervised Parenting Time, the needs of children and why judicial officers must familiarize themselves with the 2013 IPTG

In The Paternity of R.R., decided 27 January 2015, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s modification of supervised parenting time to unsupervised and the allocation of parenting time as being inconsistent. The matter came on for hearing in the paternity court upon Mother’s citation for contempt against Father for failure to facilitate parenting time. There had been a previous CHiNS action involving the same parties in which Mother’s parenting time was ordered supervised until she could meet certain conditions related to her drug use.

Upon dismissal of the CHiNS case Mother believed that parenting time would no longer require supervision. However, as part of the parents agreement on parenting time the CHiNS language was adopted which required supervision of Mother. In the contempt proceeding the court received Mother’s testimony of compliance with the CHiNS requirements. Father expressed his desire that Mother be involved with R.R. and have regular visits, but asked the court to clarify for Mother’s sake that her visits with R.R. needed to be supervised per their agreement. The trial court therefore found that there was no reason for the supervision of Mother’s visits to continue, specifically noting that the supervision requirement was “meant to be short term” and not a “roadblock” for a parent to have visitation with her child. The trial court therefore ordered that Mother have unsupervised parenting time pursuant to the guidelines, explaining that “it’s essentially every other weekend, it’s one day during the week and then whatever else the guidelines state.” Father, correctly contended in his Motion to Correct Error that the parenting time orally specified by the trial court conflicted with the 2013 IPTG for a child as young as that of the parents. Additionally, that the trial court improperly modified parenting time without giving notice to him that such was a possibility. The MCE was denied and Father appealed.

The Court in its opinion found that it “seems apparent from the record before us that there are two conflicting court orders concerning Mother’s visitation with R.R. and whether such visitation is to be supervised or unsupervised. Opposing orders of this nature will only create further conflict between the parties.” The Court also found that “the trial court’s remarks regarding weekend parenting time . . . is inconsistent with the Guidelines’ recommendations for a child of R.R.’s age.”

It may appear that the opinion is spot on in that there were two different cases -- with conflicting orders -- and that proper notice wasn’t served that parenting time would be modified. However, Judge Crone dissented. Crone makes a valid point in stating; “In reversing the order of the trial court – which presided over both the CHINS and the paternity proceedings – and remanding so that the court can “coordinate its determination as to Mother’s parenting time with the order in the CHINS action,” I feel that the majority is elevating form over substance and forcing parties of limited means to expend additional time and money so that the court can make the same decision in a slightly reworded order. This is not an efficient use of the parties’ or the trial court’s resources.”

Here is what the trial court said in its basis for modifying the parenting time order.
The court’s only concern in the CHINS case was that [Mother] have drug, alcohol treatment and complete a program and that she remain drug free and that was the only reason […] that it should be supervised. The order that the parties agreed to in the [paternity] case stated that parenting time should be supervised until she’s completed the requirements set forth in the most recent child in need of services action and basically that she complete a substance abuse program and she says that she has. Completion of the IOP qualifies for that. Their recommendations were that she be in relapse prevention and she’s doing that and she said she’s drug free and following her medication management. So I don’t see any reason for the supervision to continue. Supervision is always meant to be short term. It’s never meant to be long term and the court finds it often is a roadblock to a parent getting their visits.

Judge Crone concludes that he would affirm the trial court in all respects. Although the trial judges’ utterances about parenting time conflict with the IPTG the court did order parenting time consistent with the IPTG and thus, as Judge Crone noted, the specific language of the Guidelines controls. Also, as the same judge presided over both cases and must have determined that Mother was in compliance in the CHiNS case, which case was the basis of the supervision order, that it logically followed that supervision was no longer necessary. The only basis for supervision being part of the parents agreement on parenting time in the paternity case was the requirement in the CHiNS case.

I do agree with the majority that the trial court committed error by modifying parenting time without giving prior notice to the parents that such was a possibility. However, I agree with Crone that the trial court should be affirmed. I would have therefore found error but that it was harmless error.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Make a suggestion for me to write about.

Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.

View Stuart Showalter's profile on LinkedIn

Subscribe to my child custody updates

* indicates required
©2008, 2015 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

No comments: