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4/2/2012 11:28:00 AM
OPINION: For retiring justice, helping families made for a good day

Maureen Hayden, Tribune-Star CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has made headlines in recent weeks, with a handful of decisions that impact some fellow occupants of the Indiana Statehouse.

The court cleared the way for Gov. Mitch Daniels to pick a new secretary of state after the old one was convicted of felony voter fraud and perjury.

It agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the school voucher program created a year ago by the legislature.

And it released details of why it ruled that Daniels didn’t have to give a deposition in a billion-dollar legal battle sparked by the state’s decision to cancel a contract with IBM to modernize the state’s welfare system.

Those are important decisions. But there was another story that caught my eye that seemed to have more significance outside the Statehouse.

The story was in the March 28 edition of “The Indiana Lawyer.” In it, recently retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard was asked to name his “best day” in office.

His answer had to do with how Indiana’s courts are working to do a better job helping broken families minimize the damage done to children.

Shepard said one of his best days in office was when a group of trial court judges, led by former Clark County Circuit Court Judge Dan Donahue, showed up at the Statehouse with some ideas about how to head off the bitter custody disputes that often arise in divorce cases.

Donahue argued for guidelines that could be adopted by the courts that could help couples separate themselves from their animosities and wed themselves to the idea that parenting was a shared task best delivered by both parents.

It led to the creation of Indiana’s “parenting time guidelines” adopted by Supreme Court.

As Shepard said in the article, the parenting time guidelines helped “create a framework, one family at a time, in which both adults parent the children they are trying to raise.”

They weren’t perfect the first time out. The Indiana Domestic Relations Committee, created by the court, has worked with judges and parents and children’s advocates to find the holes in those early set of guidelines.

There’s a draft of the improved guidelines on the court’s website at www.in.gov/judiciary. The proposed changes cover myriad issues, from the use of video-chat services like Skype to coordinating parallel parenting in a “high conflict” family.

But the basic premise remains the same — that it’s usually in a child’s best interest to have frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent — which is why Shepard counts as one of his “best days” in his 27 years on the Indiana Supreme Court as the day that lead to their creation.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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