By Nicole Makris
Changes are coming to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (IPTG) beginning Jan. 1. While the Child Support Guidelines must be reviewed every four years pursuant to federal law, the IPTG have no required review period. Thus, the amended guidelines include the most profound changes since the revisions were enacted in 2013.
The guidelines now include several updates, including guidance for parenting amid a public health emergency formulated from the experience of addressing complications related to custody and parenting time orders caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This new addition calls for existing orders to continue to be followed while encouraging flexibility. Other revisions include many helpful clarifications and additions to the existing guidelines and commentary.
Notably, the amended guidelines remove the previous section regarding parallel parenting and introduce a section on shared parenting plans. The overarching theme of this alternate parenting plan, developed by the Domestic Relations Committee with the assistance of Dr. Marguerite Rebesco, is “two houses, one home.” The addition of shared parenting to the IPTG was largely due to a recognizable shift of parents toward shared parenting arrangements.
The notion of parallel parenting was intended for high-conflict parents who were unable to effectively communicate with one another regarding everyday parenting decisions for their child. Parallel parenting contemplated a system in which each parent’s household had its own rules and each parent essentially raised the child independently of the other. Shared parenting is an alternative in which “[t]he ultimate goal … is to promote the healthiest bond possible between the child and both parents.” With a shared parenting plan, each parent’s home is intended to be a “home base” for the child where their adjustment to separate households is facilitated by mutual routine between the parents’ households. A shared parenting plan is most beneficial when established for a child at a young age to allow time for adjustment to the new arrangement.
The revised guidelines provide comprehensive commentary with explanations of the factors to be considered when determining whether a shared parenting plan is appropriate for the case at hand. This commentary divides the factors into separate categories: factors related to the child, the parent, the parent-child relationship, the co-parenting relationship and environmental factors. The appendix provides insightful questions to consider when weighing whether a shared parenting time plan is in the child’s best interest.
Factors related to the child
Factors related to the child address important considerations such as the age of the child, the child’s capacity to adapt to change and the child’s ability to benefit from a shared parenting plan. Age is discussed in the considerations in regard to the extent of the decision-making required for the child and the amount of accommodations that the parents will need to be prepared for.
Factors related to the parent
The factors related to the parent focus on the parent’s motivations related to parenting, their level of involvement with the child, the nature of the parent-child relationship and any distractions from parenting that may be an obstacle to a shared parenting plan. The latter applies to a parent that battles with addiction, suffers from medical issues, has interfering relationships or whose employment may impact their parenting capacity.
Factors related to the parent-child relationship
In determining if shared parenting is the best fit for a family, the relationships between each parent and the child should be analyzed to confirm if the benefit of a shared parenting plan outweighs the benefit to the child of less engagement of one parent in the child’s life. The guidelines note that a shared parenting plan may expose the child to the positive aspects of each parent “such as warmth, availability, interest in the child, a shared positive history with the child, and an ability to discern the child’s needs … .” In cases where a parent presents a potential risk to the child in some form, a shared parenting plan is impractical and contrary to the child’s best interest.
Factors related to the co-parenting relationship
Family law practitioners have seen their fair share of parents who are unable to effectively make decisions together for their child due to lingering hostility from their shared past. The guidelines acknowledge this significant consideration and include an inquiry as to whether the parents’ “history of previous wounds” impacts collaborative decision-making efforts. Importantly, the guidelines also include a consideration that focuses on the potential mental and emotional health impacts of a shared parenting plan on the parents themselves, noting that, in general, parents previously involved in an abusive relationship are not prone to succeed with a shared parenting plan. This addition to the guidelines draws attention to the fact that “protracted parental misbehavior” that negatively affects the other parent is clearly contrary to the best interest of the child.
Under a shared parenting plan, the emphasis is placed on the parent’s care of the child rather than the physical location of the child in either parent’s household. A shared parenting plan is designed pursuant to each parent’s availability for undivided bonding time with the child. Another environmental concern is whether a shared parenting plan has beneficial or detrimental repercussions on the family’s finances.
Experienced family law attorneys are well-versed in discerning the co-parenting abilities of the parents in their cases. When the factors weigh largely in favor of a shared parenting plan, the benefits to the child’s well-being derived from mutual respect between two households, a collaborative approach to raising the child and reduced exposure to parental conflict are unquestionable.
Thank you to the IndyBar CLE “Everything You Need to Know About the Updated Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines” for information for this article.•
• Nicole Makris is a partner in the family law practice group at Cohen & Malad, LLP. Opinions expressed are those of the author.