Column: Deciding what is best for children often difficult task

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

With rare exceptions, parents want what’s best for their children. The problem is, parents who are separated often can’t agree on what, exactly, ”best” is. Such bitter disagreements often led to the couple’s separation in the first place.

So the courts become involved in mediating the dispute and trying to come up with a custody plan that is fair to both parents while making the child’s best interests paramount.

Before 2011 in Indiana, judges had few guidelines for ruling in custody cases.

A judge in one courtroom might give equal custody to a set of parents, while another judge right down the hall might give the mother sole custody in the same set of circumstances.

A decade ago, the Indiana Supreme Court brought order out of the chaos by adopting a set of Parenting Time Guidelines for courts across the state. Now, a little more than a decade later and after two years of study, the Indiana Judicial Conference has approved a proposal for revising those guidelines.

If stamped by the state Supreme Court, the revisions could take effect in early 2013.

The guidelines revision proposal has more detail to help the courts in deciding matters such as visitation. The proposal also offers more guidance to judges in handling particularly bitter custody battles where the parents have dug their heels in and refused to cooperate.

The basic premise of the guidelines since 2001 would remain intact: that parents and attorneys should work together with a spirit of cooperation to reach agreements that serve the child’s best interests. But that’s not realistic in some cases.

Perhaps the courts could be helped if parents who take intractable positions are required to attend a class or to take counseling to learn how children can be negatively affected when parents can’t make concessions for the good of their offspring.

All courts that make custody rulings have the unenviable task of trying to get parents with clouded judgment to do what’s best for their children. The revised guidelines should help.

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