NEW INDIANA PARENTING TIME GUIDELINES: PLUSES AND MINUSES

by Dawn E. Wellman May 2013

On March 1, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court chose to adopt new Parenting Time Guidelines for the State of Indiana. The old Guidelines have been in place since 2001 with amendments. The purpose of this article is to set out some of the significant changes in the new Guidelines.

The new Guidelines are more "child centered." In other words, both parents' rights are secondary to what is in the child's best interest. I recently attended a seminar concerning the new Guidelines and all of the Judges there agreed that the State is moving toward more of a 50/50 split of time if the parents can agree. Additionally, every Judge there emphasized that the guidelines were merely that and that they were to be considered the absolute minimum amount of parenting time that the other parent should receive. I think the fact that the words custodial and non-custodial have been taken out of the guidelines leaves the reader to believe that both parents are to be considered equal before the Judge's eyes and that most Judges, if there were a contested hearing, would grant more than the minimum in overnights to the other parent if it is appropriate.

It is also significant as to what was not changed in the new Guidelines. They are still age based and they are premised on the fact that children under the age of thirty-six (36) months should have a primary caregiver. This assumption is based upon the literature in the field both neurologically and psychologically. It has been found that developmentally children thrive more if they see the other parent frequently, but for short visits, under the age of three (3).

The significant changes are several. The new Guidelines still call for parents to rotate holidays. However, Christmas vacation is finally split in half as opposed to the three (3) parts as it was split under the old Guidelines. President's Day, Martin Luther King Day and Fall Break have been added as new holidays to be split between the parties. The most significant change in relationship to holidays and the weekend rotation is that parents can now have, under these guidelines, three (3) weekends in a row. Depending on holiday and extended time schedules, a parent can have as many as five (5) weekends in a row that he/she goes without visiting the child. Obviously, parents may want to alter the impact of allowing parents to have three (3) weekends in a row by maintaining the old guidelines.

The last significant change is a new section called "Parallel Parenting". It is to be used in very rare circumstances when parents are so hostile to each other that the children are being affected by the parents' actions. It basically requires no verbal communication between the parents and a notebook must be passed between the houses that each parent must complete advising the parent of information impacting the children between the visits. If an emergency occurs, a text or email may be sent. No makeup time, no switching of holidays or any other type of negotiation can go on for these parents. The rules of one parent in that parent's home have nothing to do with the other parent's home and there is no attempt to coordinate any type of discipline. When Mother has the child, she is in charge. When Father has the child, he is in charge. Mother and Father cannot criticize the other unless the actions taken by the other are totally unreasonable and puts the child in harm's way. In these cases, the Court must make a finding that regular parenting is not going to work for this set of parents because they are so hostile and a review hearing must be held every six (6) months under a parenting time order drafted under this section. The goal is to move people out of this type of parenting as quickly as possible. It is not to be used to reward a party for bad behavior. All of the Judges at my recent seminar warned to use it very sparingly.

The preamble of the new Guidelines states that parents do not automatically switch to the new Guidelines. Whatever the Court has ordered in your case remains in place unless (1) both parents agree to switch to the new Guidelines or (2) the Court enters an order granting a modification to the new Guidelines.

If any of you are interested in scheduling a conference to discuss the new Guidelines or to get a copy, please contact an attorney at ALLEN WELLMAN McNEW HARVEY, LLP at (317) 462-3455.