In many divorce and paternity cases, a continuum is presented where the parent-child relationship may be strained to non-existent. Parents want to see their children. Children want to spend time with their parents. This is a basic bond of parent-child relationships and why parents have a fundamental right to rear and make decisions for their children—one of the oldest and most protected rights under the United States Constitution.
For these and many other reasons, supervised visitation (by a third party) of a parent with his or her children is a remedy that is not meant to be a long-term way for a parent to interact with his child and is inconsistent with a parent’s fundamental right to raise his or her child; at a minimum, parents are presumed to have Indiana Parenting Time as set forth in the Indiana Supreme Court’s guidelines. Supervised visitation generally corresponds with parental legal “war”.
This blog explores how a court may order the parents to (and parents may on their own) utilize a number of mental health professionals and other professionals to establish, develop and maintain a healthy parent-child relationship. Depending on the nature of the dysfunction in the parent-child relationship, a number of professionals may be used as ordered by the court and/or employed by the parents.
To be useful and demonstrate how multiple professionals may be involved in any case, this blog takes a worst-case scenario; this example is where the facts evidence to the court the parent-child relationship poses a significant risk of harm to the child’s physical or emotional well-being.
Based on this circumstance, the court then orders supervised “visitation” at a reputable facility. In the short-term this is necessary, but is typically viewed as detrimental to parent and the child by the courts; here is a time when mental health and related professionals may be called upon to help address this situation and help the parents stay out of court in lieu of protracted litigation.
To reach this point, there may be a triggering event, such as a drug overdose or criminal arrest, or a pattern of behaviors stitched together in the evidence that collectively shows a significant risk of physical or mental harm by a parent having unsupervised visits with his or her child. Sometimes this evidence is elicited through a police officer or doctor may be called to provide the facts necessary for a court to order supervised visits to protect the child. What is next? Typically, mental health and other professionals are asked or ordered to assist. Who are they and what do they do?
A (forensic) custody evaluator—who is neutral--generally interviews the parents and children in different contexts and observes the parents and children interact with each other, performs psychological testing, such as the MMPI, and then gathers “collateral” materials that tend to support or refute the allegations of the parties. After this, the evaluator prepares a report and makes recommendations to the court, which may include ways to step out of or avoid supervised visitation, if that is the case as used as the example in this blog. If the court finds supervision to be in the children’s best interests because of a risk of physical or emotional harm to the children, the court may order this (but a court can reject a custody evaluator’s position).
In many of these and less severe circumstances, as well as general situations of parent-child or marital stress, parents may have therapists for children who help them with day-to-day issues, managing their feelings and help them have healthy lifestyles. Parents may have their own therapists throughout time. If therapists are involved already, a clinical psychologist conducting a custody evaluation will likely seek their input in performing a thorough custody evaluation.
Therapists play a variety of roles in marriage and post divorce and paternity proceedings and many have specific practice focuses. This, along with a custody evaluation, may be advised and used by your counsel in any given case. The custody evaluator is normally no longer involved after the case is completed and the recommendation made to the court. Therapists may be involved before, during and after a custody evaluation.
In the serious type of case example used in this blog (necessitating supervised visitation), a reunification therapist may be involved; he or she is called upon to work with the family to re-establish a healthy relationship between the parent and child. From this, unsupervised or less supervision and more and more time is the goal. Again, this blog focuses on the roles of these professionals in the context of supervised parenting time to reunification show the range to tools that exist that you may want to consider with your counsel, again, depending on the facts and circumstances that exist in your case.
Ultimately, courts and attorneys hope the parents can establish regular parenting time consistent with the children’s best interests and consistent with the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines and also cooperate with normal circumstances of life that will from time-to-time call for deviation from IPTG time.
However, this too is often problematic, even though this is not the severe case demonstrated above; this is particularly the case when parents have different concepts of lifestyle, such as where one is very detailed and on time and the other is more carefree. Both have their distinct benefits and detriments in making the IPTGs work. If they cannot agree and this is a chronic problem, there are two choices: file contempt and enforcement proceedings or, now, ask for the appointment of a parenting coordinator by a court order under the Supreme Court’s rules.
In the majority of cases, a parenting coordinator is a better choice for two reasons. First, a parenting coordinator keeps the parents out of court or limits the need for litigation. Second, a parenting coordinator can address a dispute or concern more or less as it happens—in real time-- and help the parties try to reach a resolution. What this means is if there a dispute about who has the children and when it is possible to resolve the problem before a parent “digs in” on his or her position and denies parenting time or the children miss an event.1
Also, the parenting coordinator may be allowed to work with third parties, such as therapists or even the custody evaluator, to make and develop a cohesive and collective approach to building and maintaining healthy interactions between the children and their parents. The alternative is endless litigation, which impacts the children’s and creates a mental imprint for their future adult relationships.
Thus, there is a multitude of mental health and other tools available to parties and the court to address and ensure quality parenting time outside court. Litigation takes its emotional toll on the parents and children and should be a last resort. The first step to achieving a court-free life is to properly engaging these services by understanding and identifying they exist and to then working with counsel to seek, if needed, to obtain an agreement to use of these professionals or court assistance to implement these tools. Healthy parent-child relationships may depend on it.
This blog post is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handles domestic cases of all types throughout the state of Indiana. We hope this blog helps you understand the tools that exist in paternity and divorce cases to best meet the needs of your children. This blog is written for general educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- The Indiana Supreme Court adopted parenting coordinators rules effective January 1, 2017. So it is important to understand which version applies to your case if already in place and to be familiar with the current rules.