If you have a child custody agreement in the state of Indiana, whether it was reached through mutual agreement or was court ordered, the next step is to determine the visitation schedule for your child. Visitation rights in Indiana are governed through the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. In addition to general rules for implementing a parenting time agreement, the Guidelines set out specific parenting time provisions by age.
Parents are encouraged to use the Guidelines as a model to assist them in creating a schedule that suits the unique needs of their child and family. However, when parents cannot reach a mutual agreement, the Guidelines are used by the court to set a visitation schedule.
What Are the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines?
The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines are a model for shared parenting developed by members of the Domestic Relations Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana and adopted by the Indiana Supreme Court. In Indiana, unless it is otherwise deemed dangerous to the child’s health, all parents are entitled to visitation, also known as “parenting time,” regardless of the custody arrangement.
Parenting time refers to the time that parents without physical custody (also known as “noncustodial parents”) spend with their children. The Parenting Time Guidelines apply to all kinds of child custody situations, but do not apply to situations in which the court reasonably believes there is a danger to the child’s physical health or safety or to her emotional development, such as in cases of a history of family violence, substance abuse or where there is a possibility that one party might abduct the child.
The Guidelines are meant to help parents who do not share a household create a parenting time plan for their child, and, if parents are unable to agree on a plan, to aid Indiana courts in devising parenting time orders. The Guidelines set forth general rules for handling issues related to parenting time and enumerate specific recommendations for a minimum amount of parenting time by age range. Parenting time when parents live far away from one another and when there is a high level of conflict between the parents are also dealt with in the Parenting Time Guidelines.
To be enforceable, a parenting time plan must be in writing, signed by both parties and filed with court. If the court is developing a plan with parents who cannot reach a parenting time agreement, the court must meet the minimum parenting time provisions laid out in the Guidelines or include a written explanation as to why the deviation is appropriate.
General Rules Under the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines
The Parenting Time Guidelines include general rules for parents implementing a parenting time schedule, including communication between parents and the child, how to implement a visitation schedule, how to deal with changes in schedules, the exchange of information and how to resolve problems and relocation.
The rules for communications cover:
- Communications Between Parents. Parents must share their contact information and shall not use their children to communicate with each other.
- With a Child Generally. A child is entitled to private communications with each parent. Parents should avoid talking negatively about each other in front of their child.
- With a Child by Telephone, Mail and Electronic Communication. Within reason, a parent should be able to contact his child by telephone, mail and electronically when the child is with the other parent.
- Emergency Notification. Parents must inform each other of the itinerary for any trips out of the area.
- Communication Between Parent and Child. Parents cannot block reasonable communication with the other parent and should promote a positive relationship between the child and other parent.
Parenting Time Rules
The rules of implementing parenting time cover:
- Transportation Responsibilities. One parent drops off the child and the other picks up the child for visitations.
- Punctuality. Both parents must have the child ready for visits with the other parent and communicate if the parent will be late dropping off or picking up the child. If a parent is late to pick up the child and does not communicate the delay ahead of time, the late parent may only reschedule the visit at a time and place convenient to the other parent.
- Clothing. The custodial parent must send clean clothing for visits, and the non-custodial parent must return clean clothing.
- Privacy of Residence. Neither parent can enter the other’s home without permission.
The rules for changes in parenting time cover:
- Scheduled Parenting Time To Occur as Planned. Parents are jointly responsible for following the parenting time order and, if one parent cannot personally care for the child during her scheduled parenting time, that parent must arrange alternate care. The Parenting Time Guidelines recognize very few acceptable reasons for the custodial parent to deny parenting time. For example, parenting time cannot be denied because the child unjustifiably refuses to go, has a minor illness, the weather is bad or if the noncustodial parent is behind on child support.
- Adjustments to Schedule/ “Make Up” Time. Parenting time adjustments should be made with as much notice as possible. If adjustments result in one parent losing parenting time, that parent can “make up” that time within one month.
- Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time. If a parent needs childcare during his parenting time, that parent must first ask the other parent if the other parent would like to care for the child during that time. The other parent is not obligated, but must be given the opportunity.
Exchange of Information Rules
The rules for the exchange of information deal with information about school records, school and other activities, health information and insurance. The rules generally state that both parents are entitled to this information about their child and are responsible for obtaining that information, but must not withhold information from the other parent.
Problem Resolution and Relocation Rules
The rules for the resolution of problems and relocation cover:
- Disagreements Generally: When there are disagreements, parents are obligated to make every attempt to resolve the issue before going to court.
- Mediation. In most cases, the court will order mediation for parenting time disputes brought before the court.
- Child Hesitation. Except in dangerous situations, a child cannot decide whether to go to parenting time.
- Relocation. Parents must give the other 90 days advance notice of their intent to relocate.
- Withholding Support or Parenting Time. Parents may not withhold child support or parenting time if the other parent does not comply with a court order.
- Enforcement of Parenting Time. If one parent is not complying with a parenting time order, the court may grant the other parent relief including contempt sanctions against the offending parent, injunctive relief for a noncustodial parent who is barred from parenting time, criminal charges against the parent interfering with visitation rights, or attorney fees to the non-offending parent for the cost of court actions to enforce a parenting time order.
Recommended Visitation Schedules for Infants and Toddlers
In order to assist parents and the court in creating a parenting time plan, the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines spell out, by age range, the minimum recommended time a noncustodial parent should have with a child. The Guidelines recognize the average developmental stages of children in their recommendations.
On the premise that the first years of a child’s life are critical to development, the Guidelines specify schedules that correspond to the child’s needs during each developmental age range. For young infants, frequent but shorter visits are prescribed, due to the great need for continuous contact with a primary caregiver. The duration of visits increases as the child ages.
For example, for birth through age 4 months, the Guidelines prescribe three non-consecutive, two-hour visits per week, two-hour visits on all scheduled holidays and one overnight visit per week if the noncustodial parent has regularly cared for the child. The suggested length of visits increases incrementally over the months, so that between 19 months and 36 months, the recommended minimum parenting time is alternate weekends for 10 hours each day, or overnight if appropriate, one day midweek for three hours, and all scheduled holidays for 10 hours.
Recommended Visitation Schedules for Children Three and Older
Once a child turns 3 years old, the Guidelines recommend a minimum regular parenting time schedule of:
- Every other weekend from Friday at 6 p.m. to Sunday at 6 p.m.
- One night during the week for up to four hours, and
- All scheduled holidays. The Guidelines set out an every-other-year schedule for the child’s birthday, school breaks and most holidays, including Easter, Fourth of July and Halloween. Parents are to split time on any winter break. The Guidelines also specify that the child will be with the mother on Mother’s Day weekend, the father on Father’s Day weekend and each parent on that parent’s birthday.
Once a child reaches age three, the noncustodial parent is also entitled to extended parenting time. In addition to regular parenting time, between ages 3 and 4, the noncustodial parent should also have parenting time for up to four non-consecutive weeks during the year.
After the child’s fifth birthday, the noncustodial parent is entitled to one-half of summer vacation or half of fall and spring breaks if the child is in year-round school. For teenagers, noncustodial parents are encouraged to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the teenager’s participation in academic, extracurricular and social activities.
Parents can use the Indiana Parenting Time Guideline webpage to create a calendar based on the Guidelines for children 3 years old or older.
Parenting Time Guidelines When Parents Live Far Away From One Another
Parenting time is more complicated for parents who live significantly far away from one another, and parenting time agreements must consider employment schedules, the cost and time of travel and financial situations. However, the general rules of the Guidelines still apply, and parents are encouraged to make every effort to create a reasonable parenting time schedule.
The Guidelines suggest that children under 3 years old have up to two five-hour periods with the noncustodial parent each week in the community where the custodial parent lives. For children aged 3 to 4, the noncustodial parent can have parenting time for six one-week periods each year, while it is suggested that children over 5 years of age on a traditional school schedule be with the noncustodial parent seven weeks of summer vacation, seven days of winter vacation and all of spring break.
How the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines Deal With Contentious Relationships
When the parents’ relationship is “high conflict,” in that the parties engage in a pattern of litigation, display chronic anger and distrust, are unable to communicate about the care of the child or demonstrate any other behaviors that place the child’s well-being at risk, the court may institute a Parallel Parenting Plan Court Order. In parallel parenting, one parent is generally awarded sole legal custody, and parenting time is arranged so that parents have minimal contact with one another. The reasoning for this type of order must be enumerated by the court and a hearing must be held to review a parallel parenting order at least every 180 days.
In parallel parenting, the parent who is caring for the child, or “on-duty,” is solely responsible for making decisions about the day-to-day care and control of the child. Communication between parents is generally limited to written communication, often through a notebook that travels with the child. The court may appoint a Parenting Coordinator to conduct a child-focused dispute resolution between the parents.
Call or Email The Indiana Parenting Time Helpline For Assistance
The State of Indiana established the Indiana Parenting Time Helpline to aid parents in creating a parenting time plan. The helpline is staffed by licensed attorneys from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The helpline attorneys cannot give legal advice, but do provide education about the Guidelines, information about parenting time questions and referrals for help. Parents can call the helpline at 844-836-0003 or email questions to PTHelpLine@dcs.in.gov.