Everyone knows of a custody “battle” waged by a family member or friend--where both parents are entrenched in their positions, are convinced they are right (and maybe are), and fight tooth and nail to have the time with their children they believe is in their best interests. Or, is this your case? Most commonly, this struggle is waged through successive litigation involving contempt actions and modification petitions; trial courts retain custody jurisdiction to hear and decide these matters until the children are adults, meaning the litigation can go on for years. As an alternative—yes there are alternatives to court--this blog covers the three key legal resources (of many) that cover the spectrum of legal tools1 to address the day-to-day and reoccurring custody and parenting time disputes, parental/child alienation, and legal tools to address the root problem of the disputes. The takeaway form this blog is use of these three tools and understanding that there is a myriad of other legal tools to the court may order to litigation that you may want to consider in any case.
Should you consider these in your case?
The newest legal tool that may assist most parents is a parenting coordinator. This legal tool emanates from and recognizes that in today’s world, parents and children have increasingly busier lives and time commitments that are difficult for even married parents manage—long work weeks, camps, school events, and the list goes on; this often becomes a daunting or impossible task for many divorced parents to manage for many reasons--grief of loss of the marriage to coordinating schedules with a new love interest. Thus, a Parenting Coordinator may be requested and ordered by the court--and are neutrals--to assist the parents in reaching solutions in real-time as to issues in a conflict in the given moment. The alternative of litigation, such as filing a contempt for a missed “party”, is sometimes (or almost always) a poor substitute for a dispute resolved before the event passes. Thus, a Parenting Coordinator is focused on resolving disputes between conflicting parents and acting as a referee of sorts on day-to-day issues, or issues that cannot get in front of the Court in enough time to be ruled on. Parenting Coordinators can work with the parties to come to an informal resolution or decide matters and submit a binding recommendation to the court to address chronic disputes or intractable positions. Thus, a parenting coordinator normally gets disputes resolved without court intervention or expedites the litigation process when the parties cannot agree, and a court needs to decide a matter. Would this be an effective tool in your case?
In an alarming number of custody cases, such those with serious mental health or addiction issues, a child may not want to visit with a parent or has been away from parental contact for so long that just starting parenting time under the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines would be harmful to the child’s psychological or physical well-being and not in their best interests. However, parents have a constitutional right to parent and be with their child that courts must delicately balance against a child best interests with a child who is afraid of a parent or who has not been around the parent in a long time. In these cases, reunification therapy is often sought and ordered by the court to balance these competing interests. Reunification therapy is exactly what it sounds like—a reunification therapist assesses the situation under the guidance of the court to craft and implement a plan to resume as-normal-as-possible parenting with the children, given facts and circumstances that led to the parental isolation. This process is customized—generally by a psychologist—to slowly transition the child back to a time with his or her parent in such a way as to address fears and concerns as they arise under the guidance of the court. Thus, even for parents in this extreme situation, legal tools exist to account for a parent’s constitutional right to parent and simultaneously meeting a child’s best interests. In all but extraordinary circumstances, a parent has the right to spend time with his or her child. Where this is not occurring, a reunification therapist may be necessary.
In most post-divorce scenarios where children are sharing time with otherwise disagreeable parents, “therapy” may be beneficial. This is different from a parenting coordinator who may handle routine matters of dispute in more-or-less real-time or reunification therapists for parents alienated or long-removed from their children. There are numerous types of therapy including individual therapy for the parent(s) or child; family therapy for the entire family; co-parenting therapy for parents who cannot agree; or anger management therapy. Such therapy may focus on the root causes leading to parenting disputes and ultimately help the parties work through issues to make them more agreeable and able to resolve their problems outside the court and without parenting coordinators or other help. There are numerous variations of “therapy” that may be considered or ordered by a court. It depends on the controlling family dynamics. The point to glean from therapy is the rules and statutes governing divorce and paternity provide a wide arrange of tools available to parents by seeking this relief through counsel to the court to maximize quality time with their children and get beyond the divorce. What is right in your case? Should you seek such relief?
These are the key legal resources that cover the spectrum of custody and parenting issues that may arise during a divorce and after. These services may be complemented by a range of other professionals, who may become involved to act in the best interest of the child, such as addiction specialists or a psychiatrist for medication intervention. The ultimately learning point is that with careful analysis of your case with your attorney, there are tools to address the unique needs of every divorce case and minimize custody and parenting time disputes and minimize litigation. Knowing this information is a key place to begin to help your attorney help you make the most of custody and parenting time in the post-divorce world. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle custody and parenting time matters in divorce and paternity matters throughout the State of Indiana and utilize this spectrum of tools to assist clients to meet the unique needs of their case. This blog post is written by Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates and is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- These are found in the divorce statutes passed by the legislature to the rules adopted by the Supreme Court for family law case.