New Year, New (Parenting Time) Rules in Indiana

Anyone visiting the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines website (http://www.in.gov/judiciary/rules/parenting/) in the new year will notice a new section titled "Parenting Coordination." 

This new addition to the PT guidelines will likely be used in high conflict divorce and custody cases in Indiana courts. Although GALs (guardian ad litems) are often appointed in such cases, these new rules may result in family law judges appointing parenting coordinators more frequently now. 

The rules discuss this resolution process in detail, which is court ordered but designed to be focused on the needs of a child. Many times parents in difficult divorce and separation cases may require the focus of a dispute to be redirected towards the child's needs (instead of either parent's needs), and the new rules are intended to provide guidance from a professional to educate parents about how to make decisions that are in the child's best interests. 

"High conflict parties" are defined in the rules as parents who have ongoing disagreements and conflicts regarding their family, specifically any issues such as a parenting time / visitation schedule or other items that may be adversely affecting the child. 

Parents in a divorce, custody or paternity case can agree to the appointment of a parenting coordinator (often referred to as a "PC" for short), or the court can appoint this professional on its own motion. If the court appoints on its own, then a written explanation should be provided of the reasons why the appointment is being made. The person appointed should be a registered Indiana Domestic Relations Mediator with additional training or experience in parenting coordination, or receive a waiver from the court based on prior experience and a willingness to complete the necessary requirements in the near future.

The following areas are the focus of the parenting coordinator:

  • to assess the family and the history of the case;
  • educate the parents about the impact that their behavior can have on the child;
  • facilitate conflict management by assisting the parties in developing parenting plans and alternative resolutions to other disputes.

Although a parenting coordinator can make recommendations to the court, the rules do not change the court's ultimate ability to make decisions regarding custody, parenting time, visitation and child support. The rules indicate that the PC should not serve for longer than two (2) years unless there is an agreement or court order setting forth other terms. Neither parent can request the judge to review the appointment unless there is an "egregious abuse of discretion or a substantial and unexpected change in circumstances."

Although the PC cannot give legal advice, if the parties cannot resolve disputes on their own with or without the suggestions of the PC, that person does have the power to make reports or formal recommendations to the court for consideration. Then the court or parents can request a hearing to incorporate the recommendations. If time is of the essence, the court can adopt the recommendation as an interim order of the court prior to a hearing. Parents should file an objection to a PC report or recommendation within ten (10) days.

If you already have a parenting time coordinator in your case, consult with your attorney about whether these new rules apply to your case. Similar to prior practice, the court has the ability to divide the parenting coordinator fees between the parties if there is no agreement to the contrary.  

Your options for divorce education classes in southern Indiana

If you start the divorce process in southern Indiana, you will likely become familiar with the Transparenting Seminar. In divorce or separation cases (and even in paternity cases where the parents are not married) that involve minor children (children under the age of 18), it is mandatory for the parties to attend an approved parenting seminar or program. 

Most attorneys will recommend that this requirement be satisfied as soon as possible, ideally during the 60 day waiting period for a divorce in Indiana. The most popular options are:

  • Helping Hands Counseling Center Transparenting Seminar
    • 525 East 7th Street, Jeffersonville, Indiana 47130, (812) 288-4449 (Cost $55.00)
  • The New Beginnings Program
    • 400 East Spring Street, New Albany, Indiana 47150, (812) 945-3400 Ext. 109 (Wendey Waggoner, MSW, CPP; Cost $15.00 for workbook)
  • Our Place Drug & Alcohol Educations Services Inc. Divorce Parenting Classes / Families in Transition
    • 400 East Spring Street, Jeffersonville, Indiana 47130, (812) 945-3400, www.ourplaceinc.org (Cost $25.00)

Registration is required for each of these programs. Attendance may be able to be waived if you have completed a similar program in the recent past or you are currently attending counseling that deals with similar issues. You should consult with your attorney about whether a motion to forego your attendance is appropriate.

However, if your work schedule doesn't permit you to attend these classes in person, or if an online option would be more convenient, local courts are beginning to accept certificates of completion from providers on the web. Below are a couple of options for you to discuss with your divorce lawyer:

Inclement Weather and Clark County Courts

The courthouse in Jeffersonville closed early today due to the impending snowstorm. A common question that arises for attorneys and non-lawyers alike is the weather policy in Clark County when snow mixes with the court dockets. 

The presiding judge in Clark County, Indiana, Judge Carmichael, clarified that if the Clark County Commissioners close the government building, then all of the Clark County Circuit Courts would also be closed.

Furthermore, if the Clark County Government Building is operating on a delayed schedule, then the courts will also not hear their scheduled dockets. Confusion arises on a delayed schedule as to what time people should appear if, for example, a hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. The judges have decided that it is not fair to require lawyers, their clients, witnesses or any other citizens to travel to the courthouse if weather dictates that even a delay is necessary. 

If there is a disruption to the court's normal schedule, then the cases that are missed will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Electronic filing now available in Clark County, Indiana

Today Key Law Group filed one of the first electronic documents with the local Clark County courthouse in Jeffersonville, a notice of relocation for a parent who is moving residences.

Clark County is just the second county in the state of Indiana where e-filing is available. To view a full list of cases that can be filed online, click here. Confidential cases, such as adoptions, are not yet available for e-filing.

Unlike e-filing in Kentucky which went statewide a few months ago, anyone (not just attorneys) can file court documents online. To learn more and to register for e-filing, click here

What belongs to you in your lawyer's file?

Your file at your attorney's office probably contains many types of documents, including correspondence, court pleadings, notes, and papers (some of which you may have directly provided).

A recent American Bar Association ethics opinion spoke on the topic of who owns what in your file. (See ABA Committee on Professional Ethics & Professional Responsibility Formal Opinion 471 (2015) - PDF will open in new window).

That decision provides that the client is entitled to (and therefore the lawyer must surrender) the following contents of the file:

  • any materials provided by the client to the attorney;
  • legal documents filed with the court (or those that are completed by not yet filed);
  • other signed legal documents, such as contracts;
  • orders or other records which can be found at the courthouse; and
  • correspondence regarding the representation, including letters and email.

The opinion states that some parts of the file are NOT the client's, such as papers and property that the lawyer generated for his/her own purpose while working for the client. This may include drafts of legal documents, internal memos and research, conflict checks, personal notes, or documents that might reveal the confidential information of other clients.

The ABA opinion provides guidance on a nationwide basis, but you should discuss any specific issues or concerns you have about your file in the county & state where your divorce or family court case is.