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Court reverses suspension of mother's parenting time

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the modification of a mother’s parenting time to end any visitation with her autistic son because the father didn’t present evidence justifying terminating the parenting time. The judges also encouraged the mother to attend parenting classes or therapy to learn how to better deal with her son’s special needs.

Mother P.S. and father W.C. had one son together, W.C., who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In May 2010, the mother’s parenting time was modified to Sundays from noon to 1 p.m. at a local McDonald’s, with the father supervising, and telephone calls on Wednesdays between 3 and 5 p.m. Mother was also ordered to treat their son appropriately for his age as a 10-year-old and refrain from talking about adult topics with him.

The father documented the visits and phone calls in a three-page journal, noting P.S. brought calendars with court dates on them, asked her son to tell her “I love you” so she could record it, and brought up his old school and behavior. She also fed him, brought him toys and books appropriate for preschoolers, and spoke baby talk to him on the phone.

After one of the visits, the son became upset and soiled himself that day. The son also reverted back to baby talk and became obsessed with baby things instead of items appropriate for a 10-year-old.

At a hearing, the mother explained that she brought the calendars because she knew her son liked them and didn’t think he’d know what the court dates meant; that she was just reminiscing when she brought up his old school and behavior to show how much he has grown; and that she had possibly referred to him as “baby,” but is trying to treat him like a pre-teen.

The trial court suspended her parenting rights and any other contact with her son and granted a protective order against her until July 2020, when W.C. would be 20.

In Paternity of W.C.; P.S. v. W.C., No. 82A04-1008-JP-496, the judges found father W.C. did not prove the need for such a restriction on P.S.’s parenting time. The evidence he presented was his journal; no guardian ad litem, therapist, or any other professional or objective witness testified. Based on the journal, the court found the mother’s actions endangered her son’s physical health and mental well-being by causing W.C. to be upset and anxious and impaired his emotional development.

While mother needs to improve her parenting skills, the evidence shows she loves her son and wants to be a part of his life and even brings him gifts, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

“This case throws into sharp relief the challenge of protecting a child’s emotional development and physical health and well-being while also recognizing a parent’s ‘precious privilege’ of exercising parenting time with that child. We do not minimize the behavioral issues W.C. has exhibited following Mother’s parenting time. However, Father simply did not present evidence justifying termination of what little parenting time Mother had left,” she wrote.

The appellate court reinstated the previous parenting time and asked the trial court to vacate the 10-year protective order. On remand, the judges encouraged the trial court to consider ordering the mother to attend parenting classes so she can learn how to appropriately deal with W.C.’s special needs. They also suggested the parenting time be supervised by a third party.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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