For nearly all family law questions that involve children, Indiana courts base their decision on their understanding of what’s in the child’s best interests. Under state law, the best interests of a child typically include “frequent, meaningful and continuing contact” with each parent. This means that even if the child lives with one parent full-time, courts will require some sort of plan for the child to see the other parent on a regular basis.
This concept is traditionally known as visitation, but recently courts have started using the term “parenting time.” A child custody agreement that includes a plan for visitation is now called a “parenting plan.”
Our court system tends to be adversarial, with each side fighting to get the best result at the expense of the other side. In a business dispute or a personal injury lawsuit, the approach has its advantages, but in a divorce case where emotions are high, an adversarial approach can prolong a dispute and lead to bad results for both parties. This kind of approach can be especially problematic in cases involving children. Parents understandably want to fight for their parental rights, but they should not let their legal battle get so intense that it harms the child’s relationship with both parents.
Another important point about parenting time is that it requires continued cooperation between the parents. Whether the parents are divorced or were never married, they may no longer have a romantic relationship, but they must continue to work together on parenting issues, including drop offs and pickups. They must also respect each other’s parental rights.
Parenting isn’t easy even when both parents are married to each other and living with their child. The situation gets a lot more complicated when the parents aren’t living together. A well-crafted parenting plan, created with the help of a skilled family law attorney, can help.