In re J.T. – Grandparent Visitation in Indiana a Long Shot

It’s been 14 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s watershed ruling in a grandparent visitation dispute. In the years since, Indiana courts have still struggled to strike a balance between parental rights and the strong desire of grandparents to be a part of the children’s lives.
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Indiana Code 31-17-5 details the circumstances under which a grandparent may seek visitation of a child. Primarily, these circumstances are when the child’s parent has died, the child’s parents are divorced or the child was born out of wedlock. The court does not permit paternal grandparent visitation where the child was born out of wedlock and paternity has not been established.

Our Gary child custody lawyers know that above all, the court is going to weigh the best interests of the child. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Troxel v. Granville is considered guiding. Although at the time, many state courts were broadening the rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren, the Troxel case shifted the direction. There, the supreme court held that a Washington state law allowing “any person” to petition a family court for visitation rights was unconstitutional, as it violated a parent’s 14th Amendment rights, interfering with a fit parent’s right to raise their children as they deem best. The state, the court held, has no grounds to question the parent’s decisions in raising those children.

However, it’s worth noting there are still cases in which grandparent visitation is granted. The case of In re J.T. is one example.

In this case, before the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Eight, a paternal grandmother sought visitation with her grandson from the boy’s mother, who had only recently regained custody of the child. During the time the mother did not have custody – about two years – the boy lived with his paternal grandmother.

The mother was 16 at the time of the child’s birth, and the boy was placed with his paternal grandmother from August 2010 through September 2012. During this time, the mother partially complied with a reunification plan, but did at times lose contact with the county’s department of children and family services. Her visits with the boy were intermittent.

In September 2012, the juvenile court ruled the boy, then two, should be placed in the custody of his mother, under departmental supervision. The boy’s grandmother sought visitation, and it was granted.

The child’s mother challenged this, saying she did not have a good relationship with the paternal grandmother, saying there were false allegations made and the grandmother interfered with her relationship with her son.

The courts disagreed. The boy was strongly bonded to his grandmother, who it was determined cared well for the boy while he lived with her. Additionally, the court found no credible evidence suggesting the grandmother interfered with the mother-son relationship. Still, the court did indicate the visitation schedule should be reviewed within one year.

Although this petition for grandparent visitation was successful, the reality is that these cases can be quite difficult to prove. It’s important to consult with an experienced attorney before filing a petition. He or she will be able to grant insight into whether, given the circumstances, the request is likely to be granted.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
In re J.T., Aug. 7, 2014, Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Eight
More Blog Entries:
Termination of Parental Rights in Indiana, April 4, 2014, Gary Child Custody Lawyer Blog