On March 31, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed a serious issue that has been lingering unanswered for several weeks amongst divorce and family law counsel and courts: What if any impact do the school closures have on custody and more pointedly, parenting time orders? Some agreements/court orders specify the exact schedule parents should follow during any uncertainty, but most do not. Thus when language in agreements/orders remained vague or non-existent, many divorced and separated families were either cooperating to ensure the best scenario for the children or using it as a battleground to enter into a power struggle over which party keeps the children, when and how long. However, the Supreme Court has ended the uncertainties and ability for parties to “take advantage” of the unprecedented environment in which we temporarily live. The Supreme Court ordered in part that:
Existing court orders regarding custody and parenting time shall remain in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and shall be followed. For purposes of interpreting custody and parenting time orders, the school calendar as published at the start of the academic year from each child’s school shall control. Custody and parenting time shall not be affected by the school’s closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If both parents and any other parties to their court case (“the parties”) believe there is a reason to temporarily modify or change the terms of a custody or parenting time court order during the COVID-19 pandemic and modification is not prohibited by the terms of their existing order,theymayinformallyagreeinwritingtotemporarilymodifytheirexistingorder. This temporary agreement may be filed with the court, but filing is not necessary so long as the agreement is kept by the parties.