The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”), Section IV recognize that parents may live too far from one another for parenting time to occur with great frequency, such as every other weekend. When the distance is too great to transport the child during the week or on weekends, parents may opt to provide parenting time for the non-custodial parent during Spring Break, Winter Break, whenever the non-custodial parent is in the area where the child resides, and with the bulk of parenting time occurring in the Summer. If Mom moves to Florida and Sally wants to finish high school in Indiana, we can all agree that distance is factor, and Mom’s parenting time would likely be limited to school breaks.
However, what if Mom just moves to Louisville, Kentucky? Is that far enough? In short, the answer is, “it depends.”
The IPTG do not provide a benchmark for how long of a commute between parents’ households constitutes “distance” which would trigger the Section IV, “Parenting Time When Distance is a Factor” provisions. Four hours seems like it’s far enough, but what about two hours? Again, we can all agree that given that midweek parenting time per the IPTG is for 4 hours, or overnight if appropriate, that if a parent lives 2 hours away, it is unreasonable for a child to drive 4 hours round trip for a 4 hour parenting time opportunity. And spending the night for a midweek is unreasonable if the child will have a 2-hour commute before school in the morning. But what about weekends?
Most parents agree that a 2-hour commute for weekend parenting time is not onerous, given that the parties may elect to meet one another halfway. However, when a child is involved in activities in the community where the custodial parent resides, either the non-custodial parent’s time will be cut short in order to allow the child to participate in the activities, or the non-custodial parent will be travelling to see the activity, or little Sally may end up missing her activities every other weekend. Given the child’s age and the activity, this may not be impactful. However, if Sally is part of a team sport, she will be letting her team down and the older she gets, she may end up being punished or benched if she fails to show up every other weekend.
While time spent with each parent is ultimately most important, also important is the child’s opportunity to grow up unaffected by her parents’ divorce, engaging in important social and physical activities and developing normal friendships with her peers. Careful attention should be paid to any decisions not only to require parenting time outside of the child’s home community, but also to enroll the child in activities which would compete with weekend parenting time. While distance isn’t legally a factor, it is a practical factor that must be considered, with the child’s time and childhood experience to be of top importance.