In today’s world, it is very common for a divorced parent not to remarry after a divorce, even after being in a long-term, stable relationship. In such relationships, it is common for the significant other to become heavily involved in the children’s lives, all known to or pieced together by the other parent. In such cases, is the significant other a “household member” for purposes of the “Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time” if the parent is unavailable to provide such care? This blog explores the topics of the “opportunity for additional parent time” and who is a “household member” for purposes of the opportunity for additional parenting time.
When it becomes necessary that a child be cared for by a person other than the parent or a responsible “household member”, the parent needing the care shall first offer the other parent the opportunity for additional parenting time. The other parent has no obligation to provide or exercise the additional parenting time. The parent exercising the additional parenting time (if he/she elects to do so) normally provides the necessary transportation, unless the parties agree otherwise. Indiana Parenting Time Guideline I(C)(4). This seems easy enough so far, right? However, this opportunity for additional parenting time must be reasonable considering the time available and the distance between the residences.
Where the difficulty often arises with the opportunity for additional parenting time, which is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “right of refusal”, is with who constitutes a “household member”. A “household member” is not defined in Title 31 covering Family and Juvenile law, despite its many definitions.1 A “household member” is defined in the commentary to the applicable Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, “as an adult person residing in the household who is related to the child by blood, marriage or adoption.” This definition creates the unusual situation where a parent who quickly remarries after divorce has spouse who is a “household member”, who may not have a strong relationship with the children yet, and still the remarried parent does not have to offer the other parent the opportunity for additional parenting, as his/her new spouse can do so because he/she is a “household member” by marriage pursuant to Indiana Parenting Time Guideline, Section I commentary (C)(4) commentary.
Further, it is presumed that this rule applies in all cases which the Guidelines cover, which is all parenting time in all divorce or paternity cases. However, the parties or a trial court may, within discretion, determine a deviation is necessary or appropriate. Thus, if your long-term significant other is going to provide the care in lieu of offering the opportunity for additional parenting time, you should obtain an agreement or litigate the matter. If not, you risk contempt and/or modification of custody and/or parenting time for not providing the opportunity for additional parenting time; as you instead have the long-term boyfriend/girlfriend provide this care. Occasional care by the boyfriend or girlfriend is not likely objectionable.
Take the example of a mother who has filed a Notice of Relocation to move closer to the other parent, but he/she is moving in with her significant other. If this relocation is not objected to, it would draw the logical inference that this boyfriend or girlfriend is a “household member”. But this is not the case, and despite its unfairness as applied in some situations of long-term relationships, this hypothetical parent who cannot provide parenting time during his or her parenting time, is in the situation of having to offer the other parent the opportunity for additional parent time, despite the fact the new husband or wife has less of a relationship between the children than the long-term boyfriend or girlfriend.
Ultimately, law is slow to change, but given the numbers of people who do not remarry, but instead, enter into long-term relationships, this Guideline may change at a future date. If the opportunity for additional parenting time is not provided and it draws a contempt petition, there is a defensible action if the distance, transportation or time makes the opportunity for additional parenting time impractical. This is where a skilled lawyer may be of help to you.
Counsel may be able to reach an agreement that this significant other can provide care in lieu of offering the opportunity for additional parenting time, at least in certain situations; litigate the matter and make arguments the occasional parenting time by a the third-party, was the only choice given the distance between the residences that made it impractical. In other words, a skilled domestic lawyer may help you work out this thorny issue if you are living with a boyfriend/girlfriend and having them provide the care and not offering the opportunity for additional parenting time.
We hope this blog clarifies for you who a “household member” is and when the “opportunity for additional parenting time” must be offered. Remember this is not the “first right of refusal” as it is called by many litigants. Ciyou & Associates, P.C. attorney litigate child custody matters of all types across the state of Indiana. This blog is written for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to be relied upon in any legal matter or for any legal issue. It is not legal advice. It is an advertisement.