Archive for the ‘Parenting Coordination’ Category

When you work or have other commitments that keep you away from home during your scheduled parenting time, you have to offer that time to the other parent, right?  Well, maybe . . .  The idea seems simple, but the Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time section of the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”) (often called the “right of first refusal”) is one of the most misunderstood, misremembered and misinterpreted parts of the Guidelines.

Here’s the actual language of the Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time section:

“When it becomes necessary that a child be cared for by a person other than a parent or a responsible household family member, the parent needing the child care shall first offer the other parent the opportunity for additional parenting time, if providing the child care by the other parent is practical considering the time available and the distance between residences. The other parent is under no obligation to provide the child care. If the other parent elects to provide this care, it shall be done at no cost and without affecting child support. The parent exercising additional parenting time shall provide the necessary transportation unless the parties otherwise agree.”

Now that we know what it says, what does it really mean?  First let’s start with the fact that “the right of first refusal” is not anywhere in there.  In fact, the commentary to this guideline warns that the phrase “right of first refusal” is not really accurate.  To begin with there is no “right” and also no obligation to have the children.  There might be an opportunity to provide care for the children, but framing it as a “right” makes people defensive when they feel that right is being taken away.  In addition, “first refusal” is a bit confusing.  There is no obligation for the parent who cannot be present during his time to tell no one until he has told you about his unavailability.  He can tell others and get a backup care plan in place while he is figuring out if you are available to take the opportunity to spend additional time with the children.

So when does this opportunity need to be offered to the other parent?  First, notice that the language of the guideline begins with the need for child care.  This need for someone to provide care to your child is the triggering event.  That means if your child is seventeen years of age and you will be gone even all day, you are unlikely to need child care.  The age at which children can be left alone and for what period of time is not clearly defined, and depends on the circumstances.  The general rule is if you would ask a neighbor, friend’s parent or grandma to watch the child while you are gone, offer that time to the other parent.  If not, there is no obligation to offer the time.

Also notice that the rule specifies that if you need child care from someone other than a responsible household family member, you need to offer the time to the other parent.  Household family member is a person related by blood or marriage who lives in your household.  This includes a step parent, a sibling or grandma if she lives with you. Grandma staying in your spare room for a week doesn’t count.  She’s not living with you, she’s just visiting.

Notice a couple of other details about the guideline.  First, the opportunity must be offered if it is reasonable given the time and distance involved.  If you live an hour away from your co-parent, a brief absence of your co-parent might not trigger the opportunity for additional parenting time provision because it makes no sense to drive one hour to provide care for thirty minutes.  In addition, note that the guideline requires the parent who is providing care while the other is unavailable must do all the driving to make that extra time happen.

Finally, remember that the opportunity for additional parenting time only lasts as long as the other parent is unavailable.  When the other parent is back, the additional time immediately ends.  There is no ability to turn the extra time into an extra overnight or any additional time because it is not your parenting time.

Few things push the anger button faster than feeling like your time with your child is being taken away.  Co-parents argue about parenting time and can often feel significant anxiety about discussing the schedule with one another.  Children can also feel the anxiety of not knowing where they will be on a particular day.  This unpredictability can lead the whole family to unhappiness and stress.

Did you know that the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines suggest the creation of an annual parenting time calendar each year?  This suggestion is somewhat hidden in the Commentary section of the Guidelines’ Preamble, so it’s possible it slipped by you.  The Commentary suggests that it is helpful for parents to create a year-long parenting time calendar.  “Forecasting a year ahead helps the parents anticipate a plan for holidays, birthdays and school vacations.”

While creating a year-long parenting time calendar might sound like a lot of work, it is simpler than it seems.  Begin by logging the regular parenting time onto a paper calendar with a pencil (there are numerous printable calendars online).  Use your court order for reference and record the normal rotation of days and weekends for the whole year by writing “Dad” or “Mom” on particular days.  Next pull out the school corporation calendar to see where the school year ends in the spring and where the next school year begins in the fall.  Mark those dates.  Erase the normal weekend and parenting time rotation contained between these two dates in preparation for adding a summer schedule in a moment.

Your next step will be to review your court order and/or the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines for the schedule of holidays and special days.  For each of these days or periods of time, find the corresponding date on the calendar.  Erase any regular parenting time notation that is currently on a holiday or special day date and replace it with a notation giving those dates to the parent who will exercise the holiday time.  Laying your holiday time on top of your regular parenting time like a transparency that changes only the holiday and special days dates while leaving all other regular parenting time alone helps avoid confusion about whose parenting time it is when holidays end.  This is important because the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines specify that the regular weekend rotation should continue even when holiday time gives a parent three weekends in a row.  Instead of shuffling the schedule or trying to find make up time, the regular schedule simply resumes as if the holiday had not occurred.

Finally it’s time to return to the summer break and enter a summer schedule. When distance is not a factor and unless your specific court order says otherwise, the non-custodial parent has the ability to select the summer schedule provided that holiday and special day parenting times are honored and that the election is made by April 1st.  Of course there is no requirement that the non-custodial parent wait until April 1st to make a summer schedule election.  In fact, it is helpful to both parents to have the summer schedule set as early as possible.

Once the annual calendar is done, both parents should have a copy.  Hanging it on the refrigerator for the family to see is a good idea.  Instantly there is less confusion as to where a child will be on a particular weekend or date. Plans can be made and everyone can relax and feel confident that the schedule is set.  The effort made to sketch out the year on paper is worth it to reduce arguments and confusion.  After all, peaceful co-parenting benefits the whole family.

Carol and Mike Made Blended Family Parenting Look Easy

December 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

The Brady Brunch was a classic 1970’s sitcom showing Mike and Carol Brady seamlessly co-parenting their large blended family.   The girls never told Mike, “You’re not my real dad!”  The boys never told Carol they wanted to go live with their mom.  Mike and Carol knew their role was to support the actions of their spouse.  However, step-parents cannot all be Mike and Carol.  Sometimes step-parents overstep their role, or are given a greater role by the parent to whom they are married, with unfortunate results.

Can a step-parent volunteer at the school party?  Sure, so long as both parents have been given the opportunity to volunteer and are unable to do so.

Can a step-parent attend medical appointments?  It depends.  If the spouse of the step-parent cannot attend, and the other parent plans on attending, it may or may not be a good idea.  If information needs to be relayed regarding how to do a breathing treatment, or monitor the progress of ADHD medication, for example, and it would be helpful to have the same information heard by someone in both households, so long as the relationship with the other parent will not negatively impact the doctor’s ability to treat the child or create a scene, the step-parent may attend.  It’s important to note, however, that a step-parent cannot make medical decisions for the child.  Only parents can do that.

Can a step-parent attend a child’s sporting event?  So long as the step-parent behaves appropriately and does not embarrass the child to create drama with either parent, yes.

Can a step-parent provide childcare for the child if the parent who should be exercising parenting time will not be home for parenting time?  Unless there is a court order that states that parents must be personally present for parenting time, if the step-parent and parent live together, then yes.  If a household family member related by blood or marriage resides in the home and is available to provide the care, which would include a step-parent, then they may do so.  However, if the parent is going to be gone for most or all of the parenting time in question, common sense would suggest that perhaps the parent who will not be home should offer to switch weekends with the other parent for a time when he or she will be home, if possible.

Can a step-parent discipline a child?  If corporal punishment such as spanking the child, especially with a belt or switch, absolutely not.  If parents discipline with timeouts or taking away privileges, this may be best left to the parent to set out the punishment; however, the step-parent may assist with administering the consequences and/or not giving in until the punishment period is over.

Obviously, if a step-parent has a good relationship with the parent to whom they are not married, then of course they may be included in as many school activities, extracurriculars and medical appointments and even discipline as the parties find appropriate.  It’s only when the step-parent creates conflict with the other parent or between the parents and does not facilitate a positive experience for the child that rules and boundaries need to be discussed or even included in a court order.

Providing a Smart Phone Without Being Dumb

October 1st, 2017 by Wanzer Edwards

As soon as the first child in elementary school gets a cell phone, odds are that your child will come home and ask for one as well.  But should you get one?  Do they really need it?  If not now, then when?  The answer to this question is different for every family.

If your child will be riding the bus home to an empty house, a cell phone would be extremely useful in the event they cannot get into the house.  If you, like many families, no longer have a landline and the child will be home alone for ANY amount of time, a cell phone is absolutely required.  If a child will not be alone and will have access to a landline and/or a parent’s cell phone to contact the other parent, then a cell phone may be premature.

So, you’ve decided to purchase a cell phone for the child.  Just as there is no requirement to get Johnny a Cadillac when a Honda Civic will do – or even to purchase a car for Johnny at all! – there is no requirement that parents provide the latest version of an iPhone.  Parents may select a phone that does not support apps or the internet; instead, a parent may simply opt to provide a phone in case of emergencies.  Parents may also opt to purchase a phone with pre-paid minutes, so that the child’s data use is limited.

BUT, parents who are no longer in an intact family should discuss providing a phone to the child before one parent unilaterally provides a phone.  Especially if a non-custodial parent provides the phone without discussion and agreement, the custodial parent may, at best, view the phone as an interruption or, at worst, an attempt to monitor the child’s, and possibly the other parent’s whereabouts or communications with the child.  Both parents should discuss rules in both parents’ homes such as time when the phone will be off limits each evening, where the phone will be charged (such as a common area and not in the child’s bedroom after hours), and if it is acceptable to take away the child’s phone as punishment.

Ultimately, the best time to allow your child to have a phone is when you and your co-parent both decide it’s time.