Parents across the state are exchanging their children for parenting time on any given night of the week. Most of the time, those parenting plans are part of a court order that suggests either a specific schedule that may be unique to their family, or perhaps the schedule is the parenting time pursuant to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. And most of the time, these exchanges go off without a hitch. But what if they don’t?
If you have ever arrived for a parenting time exchange only to find that the exchange will not be taking place, you know that it is a frustrating thing. Inevitably, in your moment of frustration you have considered what action you can take to make the scheduled parenting time exchange happen. When considering your options, you may have thought about calling the police. But should you?
First it bears mentioning that if you genuinely are concerned that your child may be in physical danger, a call to the police may be in order. Most of the time, however, a missed parenting time exchange is not due to a child being in a physically dangerous situation. If your child is not in danger, but the cause of the missed exchange is that your co-parent is intentionally denying your parenting time, you may believe that the police can force the exchange. The reality is that responding police officers will likely suggest that you speak with your attorney to address your concerns in the same court where your parenting time order was filed. This is because intentionally withholding parenting time is not a crime, and the police respond to criminal behavior. You may have heard stories from other parents about a police officer enforcing a parenting time order, but keep in mind that these occasions are few and far between and occur occasionally when a very specific court order is in place (and in your hand to show to the officer) that specifies an exchange on a specific date and at a specific time. Odds are that your court order is not that specific (most are not).
The truth is that most of the time, while the parent who has the child certainly *could* be intentionally denying time or access, frequently, the dispute is either due to miscommunication or failing to confirm that the exchange was going to occur. Rather than immediately presuming that your co-parent is trying to interfere with your parenting time or access, consider that perhaps there are other reasons for the missed time or the child’s lack of availability that are not nefarious. If you contact the police to try to facilitate a parenting time exchange, you are immediately escalating an already emotional exchange into a major life event for the child. The child may feel like he or she is in trouble for the exchange, or that a parent is going to be arrested. Not only can the child end up feeling like he or she is to blame for the police being present, but the child may become angered with the parent who called the police and refuse parenting time in the future. Additionally, this also may eliminate the hope of ever being able to peacefully co-parent with your ex, if you both begin involving the police in your exchanges or parenting time disputes.
Some parents contact the police merely to “report” the grievance with their ex, and so there is a record that it occurred. There are other ways to keep track of missed time and access that do not involve contacting the police, and which will still be useful to your attorney. Bottom line, if there is a life or death emergency, you should feel free to call 911. Otherwise, reach out to your ex one last time to try to facilitate the contact or parenting time, and if it doesn’t happen, call your attorney in the morning. Your child will benefit, and you might be able to return to peaceful co-parenting for the next exchange.