The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”) stress the importance of communication between a child and a parent. Section I of the IPTG contains specific directions regarding communication in general and in various forms such as telephone, mail and electronic communication. In each section the IPTG stresses that a child is entitled to private and unimpeded communication with a parent. Both the parent exercising parenting time and the one communicating with the child need to behave in a reasonable way.
When trying to figure out what is “reasonable,” it is easiest to examine what the IPTG identifies as unreasonable.
- Interrupting, intercepting, blocking, discouraging, or otherwise getting in the way of communication
One of the most common unreasonable practices by parents is the practice of getting in the way of communication between a child and the other parent. For reasons that are often rooted in the feelings parents have about one another and not about the feelings a child has, a parent may refuse to answer telephone calls, block the other parent’s phone number, take mail and cards sent to the child, forbid the child to email, text or call a parent or take any steps which have the intent or effect of putting up a communication roadblock between parent and child. Unfortunately, this behavior sometimes inspires the blocked parent to return the treatment. The result is that a child is unable to access the parent who is not exercising parenting time. The Commentary to Section I of the IPTG makes clear that this behavior is destructive to the child’s relationship with the parent being blocked but is also destructive to the child. The IPTG Commentary encourages parents to set a time for a call to ensure that the child is available and ready to communicate with the parent not exercising parenting time. While a set time is not the only contact permitted between parent and child, it ensures access at agreed times.
- Too long, too late, or early, too often
It is unusual for a child to spend large amounts of time talking with, texting, emailing, or having any other form of communication with a parent. Very young children simply do not have the attention span to devote significant time to any one activity. Older children begin to become focused on their peer relationships as opposed to time with parents, which is age appropriate and expected. So, calls, texts or emails that are more frequent than a parent would have if a child were at a friend’s house or a grandparent’s house are probably unreasonable. In addition, contact with a child after bedtime, before a reasonable waking time, or during school hours is crossing the line. Remember that the key consideration is a child’s developmental needs and not a parent’s needs or wants.
- Monitoring, recording or spying
As tempting as it might be to ask a child to use a Facetime conversation to gather information you can use during an upcoming court battle, this is strictly off limits. Using a child as a spy or to report on a parent is specifically prohibited by the IPTG. Also prohibited is monitoring or recording communication between your child and co-parent. Monitoring communication often takes the form of reading text messages between parent and child. Even if you review text communication your child is having with others, you are not entitled to read the texts your child exchanged with your co-parent. That is inappropriate monitoring.
Engaging in these inappropriate behaviors can have serious consequences. The Commentary to Section I of the IPTG cautions that the behaviors described above can lead to “sanctions, a change of parenting time, or in some cases, a change of custody.” With the stakes that high, it is wise to resist the urge to engage in unreasonable communication or to stand in the way of communication between your child and co-parent, even if you don’t get along with your co-parent.