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Proposed rules provide uniformity for parenting coordinators

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The use of parenting coordinators is increasing around the state. But depending on where you are in Indiana, the authority of the parenting coordinator – PC – may differ. In an effort to create uniformity, rules are being proposed that would regulate the role and authority of PCs.

Parenting coordination is still relatively new in Indiana as compared to other states, such as Florida and Colorado. Parenting coordinators – attorneys or mental health professionals – assist “high conflict” parents when it comes to resolving issues involving their children. These are the parents who may, for example, disagree as to what kind of clothes their child wears. Instead of running to the courts every time there is a disagreement, the use of a PC can help resolve issues and teach the parents to work things out without court involvement.

Allen Circuit Magistrate Judge Craig J. Bobay said he’s seen orders that permit a PC to make binding recommendations but believes changes to existing orders should be judicial decisions. Robin B. Niehaus, an attorney and parenting coordinator in the Indianapolis area, said she is able to write a recommendation that would be considered binding unless one of the parties object.

This disparity around the state in PC authority exists because there are no rules regulating this area. Currently, judges can enter any order and give any authority they deem appropriate to the PC. Some of that is based on the different authority levels of PCs used in the state.

As defined in the Indiana Parenting Coordination Guide produced by Families Moving Forward Inc. in 2005, there are three levels of PCs used in Indiana. Level 1 PCs work with parents to resolve issues, but can only make recommendations; Level 2 PCs have the same role, but may be able to make binding recommendations if the court allows. Level 3 builds upon the first two levels, and also allows the PC to select and manage a treatment team to attend to the medical or mental-health needs of the parents or children.

Magistrate Bobay said the use of PC levels varies in Indiana, but he does know of some county bar associations that have adopted those levels for PCs.

“There was no consistency in the authority that parenting coordinators were being given,” said Lake Superior Magistrate Judge Nanette Raduenz. “We want orders throughout the state that are consistent regarding authority.”

The proposed rules don’t recognize levels. PCs will not be able to unilaterally modify an existing order or parenting plan, but they will be able to make recommendations and reports to the parties. If the parties agree, those recommendations can be adopted in practice or submitted to the court as a modification in the form of an agreed order, she said.

Magistrates Raduenz and Bobay, along with other judicial officers, were part of a subcommittee created by the Indiana Judicial Conference’s Domestic Relations and Alternative Dispute Resolution committees that wrote the proposed rules. Steuben Superior Judge Bill Fee, chair of the Domestic Relations Committee, said the committees know that PCs are being used and it’s a growing practice, and they felt it was time to take a look at the issue.

The 10 proposed rules include defining the qualifications of a PC, terms of service, confidentiality, and immunity. Currently, parenting coordinators don’t fall under any court rules and instead follow guidelines instituted by organizations like the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

parentingKate Burroughs, a family law attorney at Cross Woolsey & Glazier, said she has heard concerns about how recommendations by PCs under these rules wouldn’t be binding, as is the practice in some courts. Niehaus also cites proposed Rule 7 regarding the timeline once a PC has made a recommendation to the court as a concern. The rule could lengthen the recommendation process to as much as 50 days when factoring in objections and responses to objections filed with the court. Currently, she is able to make a recommendation and allow the parties seven days to object before it becomes binding.

Courts cannot order parties to utilize parenting coordination, and that would remain under the proposed rules. Niehaus said many parenting coordinators would have preferred to see a rule allowing the court to order people to participate in parenting coordination.

Magistrate Raduenz said the subcommittee discussed that possibility.

“It was determined that this should be something the parents agree to do voluntarily, mostly because of the cost factor,” she said. “Our experience with litigants is if it’s something they voluntarily agree to do, then they are more vested in the program and we’re hoping that this will then be a more productive process if they are on board from the beginning.”

Niehaus also has concerns with a proposed rule that may allow the PC to decide how much each parent has to pay for the PC. She wants the court to continue to make those decisions.

“The parenting coordinator is supposed to be unbiased, and if the parenting coordinator decides who pays how much, you can imagine the first thing (a party says is), ‘That’s not fair to me, you’re being biased,’” she said.

Laura Ellsworth, a PC and licensed counselor in Evansville, likes that the proposed rules spell out the qualifications for being a parenting coordinator, but she has concerns with the rule requiring the PC to be a registered Indiana domestic relations mediator. She said a lot of PCs don’t want to do domestic mediation. Judge Fee believes being a mediator would be an advantage for PCs, as they would have immunity as described under Indiana Rules for Alternative Dispute Resolution, Rule 1.5. But this gives Niehaus pause, as she wishes the rules would have spelled out a specific immunity section for parenting coordinators instead of lumping them under the immunity provision for mediators.

Under proposed Indiana Parenting Coordination Rule 10, those who want to serve as a registered PC would have to register with the Commission for Continuing Legal Education and pay an annual $50 fee. Currently, courts vary as to whether they have a master list of parenting coordinators. Judge Fee said that his court does not keep a list to provide to parents who may want to utilize a PC, but he knows who the PCs are in the area. In Lake County, those who are trained as PCs notify the courts and ask to be put on a list.

Overall, judges, attorneys, and parenting coordinators are pleased that rules were introduced.

“We think it’s time for some consistent regulation across the state,” said Judge Fee.•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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