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.