Indiana courts use the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“Guidelines”) as a model to help families create a parenting time schedule. The Guidelines represent the minimum time a noncustodial parent should spend with a child in most situations. However, parenting time plans are always specific to the family and could include more or less time. The most important consideration is always what is best for the children.
Significant updates to these Guidelines were implemented on January 1, 2022. The new Guidelines will be used by the courts to develop parenting time plans going forward. If you already have an existing parenting time plan, you should continue to follow it, but the new Guidelines will be referred to if your parenting time plan is modified in the future.
So, what are the major changes to the Guidelines? The new Guidelines reflect the individuality of families more than ever before and recognize that each family has its own needs. To help parents have better options for co-parenting, the Guidelines are implementing a new parenting time model called Shared Parenting, which could replace Specific Parenting Time Provisions for some families.
Here are our tips on how to navigate the new Guidelines and determine which parenting time model is right for you.
Understanding Shared Parenting
Traditionally, the courts have implemented Specific Parenting Time Provisions in many cases as a default. Generally, the Specific Parenting Time Provisions grant the noncustodial parent with designated mid-week and weekend time and a set holiday, school break, and summer schedule. This can be helpful for parents who need a firm visitation schedule to work together successfully and who also need a degree of separation in their personal relationship. The downside is that the child may only feel at home with the custodial parent and could feel like just a visitor with the other parent.
The new Guidelines provide a solution. Some co-parents require less separation in their personal relationship and wish for a more seamless blending of child-rearing practices in their two homes. The needs of these families may be better addressed by Shared Parenting. Shared Parenting is designed to create a “two houses, one home” model. Shared Parenting may involve a 50-50 schedule—such as alternating weekends—or some other specialized schedule that fits your family.
Ultimately, the abilities of the individual parents and their ability to work together, the amount of work Shared Parenting would require of your unique family, and the costs to the child of both Shared Parenting and any alternative are all essential considerations. Parents who are flexible and able to work together as a team are probably the best candidates for a Shared Parenting model.
Use The Guidelines Framework For The Best Interest Of Your Child
The new Guidelines recognize that it is impossible to impose any set of presumptions that will benefit almost all children and families because each family has its own particular needs and characteristics. The best parenting time plan for a particular child is the one that provides for healthy and continuing parenting relationships and promotes the best interests of the child.
To determine what parenting time plan is best, the court considers a framework involving many factors, including:
- Factors related to the child
- Factors related to the parent
- Factors related to the parent-child relationship
- Factors relating to the co-parenting relationship
- Environmental factors.
Age, temperament, routine, health, flexibility, schedules, and cooperation all matter. This is not an all-inclusive list of the factors and questions that a court can consider in your case, but understanding this framework can help you, your co-parent, and the court decide what is best for your child.
Ask Yourself The Right Questions
Determining whether Specific Parenting Time Provisions or Shared Parenting is right for your family is complex. The new Guidelines suggest that parents ask themselves what is best for their child and thoroughly consider which parenting time plan is best for the whole family.
Here are some questions that the Guidelines encourage parents to consider:
- Do you feel thoroughly informed regarding all that is required of parents who practice Shared Parenting?
- Do you understand all of the things a parent needs to do in their own household and in coordination with the other parent’s household when committing to Shared Parenting?
- Do you understand what the court expects of parents who commit to Shared Parenting?
- Do you feel all of your children would benefit from spending nearly equal amounts of time in the homes of both parents?
- Do you feel you and your child’s other parent make higher quality decisions when you make those decisions together?
- Are there specific areas where one of you is better equipped to make decisions?
- Do you and the other parent agree about this?
- Are you willing to give greater weight or acknowledge the opinion of the parent with greater expertise?
- Do you take steps to shield your child from disagreements?
- Does the other parent take steps to shield your child from your disagreements?
- Does your child believe you have significant disagreements in child-relevant areas?
- Do you take steps to portray a positive relationship to your child?
- Does the other parent take steps to portray a positive relationship to your child?
- Does your child believe you and the other parent like each other?
- Does the stress of working through differences with the other parent impact your daily life negatively?
- Have you or the other parent relied on courts to resolve differences in this case?
- Do you believe your child would be happiest in a Shared Parenting arrangement?
- If other people assist you in caring for your child, do you believe they would willingly assist you in fulfilling the commitments of a Shared Parenting relationship?
Answering these questions can be difficult. You may benefit from speaking to an attorney about the parenting time framework, the factors the court will consider, and the questions you should ask yourself.
Use A Parenting Time Calendar
Every family is different, and your parenting time plan should fit the specialized needs of your children. The courts have provided an online calendar app to help parents generate a calendar for their unique parenting time plan.
Plan For A Public Health Emergency
the COVID-19 pandemic caused confusion for many parents, especially during school closures and mandatory quarantines. Parents were not sure if they should continue with parenting time exchanges and risk exposure of the children or to keep the children in one household for safety reasons. With pandemic-related backlogs clogging court calendars, many families were left with questions as they tried to make the best co-parenting decisions possible during an unprecedented time.
The new Guidelines help parents know what to do during a public health emergency. The Guidelines are clear: Existing court orders regarding custody and parenting time are to remain in place during a public health emergency and should continue to be followed by parents. Custody and parenting time are not changed by the child’s school closing for a public health emergency, and the parents should continue to follow their usual school break and holiday schedule. Transportation for parenting time exchanges should also continue as normal unless such transportation is restricted pursuant to an Executive Order.
However, parents are expected to be flexible and to cooperate for the best interests and health of the children. This means that temporary modifications may be appropriate. If you chose to forgo parenting time in order to protect your child’s health and well-being, you are eligible for the make-up time in the future. Both parents can agree in writing to temporarily modify the existing parenting time plan and file it for the court’s approval. If the parents cannot reach a temporary agreement, any party may file a petition to modify the existing order.
Your family law case is as unique as your family, and small details can make a big difference. If you’re wondering whether a shared parenting plan is best for your family, consider contacting our experienced family law attorneys at Bennett, Boehning, & Clary in Lafayette, Indiana. Here at BB&C, we know just how important and challenging family cases can be. Nothing is more important than your family, and we share your commitment to doing what is best for your children. Reach out to us at 765-742-9066 if you need someone to represent your rights and advocate for your family.