Sally’s new job will have her traveling away from home four days and overnights per month.  She’s excited for the opportunity and assumes that any work travel that interferes with her regularly scheduled parenting time will create the right to make-up time. She’s surprised and confused when her co-parent Mike does not agree and insists that the regular schedule go on. Who’s right?

Confusion about when make-up parenting time is appropriate is very common. It springs from the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines which include two different sections related to an interruption in the regular parenting plan.  First, Section I(C)(2) Adjustments to Schedule / “Make-Up” Time instructs that:

Whenever there is a need to adjust the established parenting schedules because of events outside the normal family routine, the parent who becomes aware of the circumstance shall notify the other parent as far in advance as possible. Both parents shall then attempt to reach a mutually acceptable adjustment to the parenting schedule. If an adjustment results in one parent losing scheduled parenting time with the child, “make-up” time should be exercised as soon as possible. If the parents cannot agree on “make-up” time, the parent who lost the time shall select the “make-up” time within one month of the missed time.

Second, Section I(C)(3) “Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time” states:
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 agreed.

The key to figuring out which one applies is found in the language of these Guidelines.  The need for make-up time is triggered when something happens that is outside the normal family routine.  The opportunity for additional parenting time occurs when a parent is unavailable for parenting time because of work or other obligations and needs childcare.  Susie’s frequent and regular travel for work is now part of the normal family routine as opposed to something like a family funeral. While Susie is working out of town during her parenting time, she needs someone to care for the children and she must first offer that opportunity to her co-parent, Mike.  When she returns, she does not have a right to demand some of Mike’s time be given to her.  Mike received “additional” parenting time not “shifted or swapped” parenting time. Susie can’t make up this time. And if Mike was unable to provide childcare Susie would have to get a sitter.  If Susie had to ask her mother to come to the house to watch the children when she was out of town, Susie would not be able to receive make-up time from her mother.

So, what can Susie do?  If her new job and its schedule makes the current parenting plan unworkable, Susie should talk to a lawyer about seeking a modification.  Structuring a parenting plan around the needs and schedules of the family helps to create certainty for children and avoids the chaos of constantly shifting schedules due to make up days.