September 20, 2012

What’s best for the children

The issue: Indiana judges last week approved a model set of guidelines for child custody and  visitation.

Our view: The ideal approach is when parents can reach a compromise, but when that fails, the guidelines keep the process balanced.

Proposed changes to a comprehensive set of guidelines for child custody cases are awaiting approval by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The revisions were approved last week by the Indiana Judicial Conference, whose members include the state’s trial court judges. If approved by the Indiana Supreme Court, the revised guidelines will likely go into effect early next year.

The current guidelines brought order to what had been a chaotic set of standards that varied not only from county to county but sometimes from court to court  within the same county, and that sort of patchwork led to confusion and complaints of unfairness.

Thus, it’s essential that the state courts keep these guidelines up to date, that they review them from time to time to make sure they match up with the current reality.

Clearly, the guidelines should be fair to both parents, but they should keep foremost the interests of the children.

The recommendations came out of a committee of judges that has been studying the guidelines for about two years. They cover such issues as where  children will spend their holidays and what happens when warring parents can’t agree on the most basic rules for visitation.

It’s too late for formal comments on the proposed changes. The comment period ended in February.

Still, those whose lives might be affected by the proposed changes might do well to check out the proposed new rules on the state website.

The guidelines are designed as a model for judges to follow. They start with the premise that a child is best served by two actively engaged parents.

The changes set out rules for visitation and other matters in painstaking detail. They include, for example, specific times of the day when children can go from one parent to another, spell out what holiday celebrations take precedence over birthday celebrations, and how to evenly split up Christmas vacations that spill over into the New Year.

The breakup of a marriage is nearly always traumatic, and when children are involved, the trauma multiplies.

In an ideal world, parents would put their differences aside and make decisions in the best interests of the children, but, human nature being what it is, that doesn’t always happen.

In those cases, the guidelines are designed to make the outcome more predictable and fair.

Parents whose lives might be affected by the new rules might do well to check them out.