Trial Court Infringed upon Mother’s Custodial Rights

Family Law Case Review

Case: In the Paternity of J.W. Bailey R. Dailey v. Justin L. Piersimoni
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court’s phase-in parenting time order infringed upon Mother’s custodial rights by delegating decision-making power to a social service provider.

HELD: Trial court erred when it held Mother in contempt for not doing enough to arrange supervised parenting time and therapy sessions with the social service provider, because the order that required same did not place any specific, unambiguous scheduling obligations upon Mother.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Child was born to Mother and Father in 2009. Paternity was established in 2012. At the time, Father was in prison for battering Mother, and Mother was granted sole legal custody of Child.

After his release from prison, Father sought parenting time with Child. After a hearing, the trial court issued a supervised, phase-in parenting time order to be overseen by the “Family Ties” program in Angola.

Father and Child’s initial supervised parenting time sessions were therapeutic in nature, supervised by a Family Ties therapist. However, Mother then requested that the parenting time sessions be supervised by someone else. Mother and Family Ties worked to schedule sessions with a different supervisor, and when that scheduling process was unsuccessful, the director of Family Ties wrote a letter to the trial court stating that Mother was non-compliant. A contempt petition by Father against Mother followed.

Though Mother testified as to the conflicts and other circumstances that made scheduling Family Ties sessions very difficult, the trial court found Mother in contempt “for denying parenting time.”  Mother was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which Mother could purge by paying $750 towards Father’s attorney’s and demonstrating immediate compliance with the trial court’s orders. Mother appealed.

On appeal, the Court concluded that the trial court had improperly delegated to Family Ties. As the sole legal custodian, it was Mother’s decision whether child would receive mental health care and, if so, from whom. When the trial court enforced Family Ties’ assignment of Father’s therapist to also provide therapy to Child, it usurped an authority that belonged to Mother and gave it to Family Ties. This was error.

As to the contempt finding, the Court found that Mother’s apparent conflicts that did not allow her to schedule Family Ties sessions (e.g, Child’s gymnastics) were in good faith. Because the trial court’s parenting time order imposed only broad and ambiguous obligations upon Mother, Mother had not failed to do anything that was specifically required of her. Therefore, the finding of contempt was error.

In a 2-1 decision, the trial court’s order was reversed.

Judge Robb’s concurrence and Chief Judge Vaidik’s dissent discussed that Mother never appealed the original May 2016 parenting time order that allowed Family Ties the discretion in question and, thus, whether Mother should be required to live with its consequences as a result.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: n the Paternity of J.W. Bailey R. Dailey v. Justin L. Piersimoni

_________________________________________________________________________________

James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Leave a Reply