The Indiana Supreme Court was asked to consider whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting child visitation to maternal grandparents after their daughter – the child’s mother – passed away.
In re: The visitation of L.- A.D.W., the state high court ruled visitation in this case was appropriate, even if it went against the father’s wishes to more strictly control such interactions. The court considered the best interests of the child in reaching its conclusion.
Although grandparents in Indiana face significant hurdles in obtaining visitation if it is against the express wishes of the parents, a strong argument can often be made where the bond is especially strong and/or when one of the parents has died.
In this case, the child from the time she was born had a close relationship with her maternal grandparents. In fact, the grandparents lived with her when she was first born. Even after they returned to their own home, they remained a part of the child’s daily life.
When her mother was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, her grandparents moved back into the home to help care for the mother. Mother battled cancer for three years. In the midst of all this, her husband – child’s father – filed for divorce. Mother passed away before the dissolution was final. The girl was just 8-years-old.
Mother expressed in her will that she wished for her parents – the girl’s grandparents – to have visitation rights. During the divorce, the relationship between the grandparents and the father had grown contentious. They worried the father would cut them off from all contact with the child, and sought a court order to allow regular grandparent visitations.
Meanwhile, father wanted to control any visitation schedule.
Two mental health experts testified before the court that it was in the child’s best interest to maintain a regular, ongoing relationship with her parents.
Based on this and considering the totality of the circumstances, trial court ordered grandparent visitation. The schedule would allow for full-time transition to her father’s custody (remember: The girl had been living with her grandparents and mother at the time of her mother’s death).
Father appealed. He argued trial court failed to give proper weight to his decisions regarding his daughter’s upbringing or to apply the presumption that, as a fit parent, he was acting in her best interest. He also argued that the amount of visitation awarded was inherently unfair.
Appeals court affirmed on the issue of visitation, but reversed and remanded on the question of how much visitation was appropriate. The court ruled the amount of visitation awarded was excessive in light of the “occasional, temporary” amount permitted under the Grandparent Visitation Act.
However, the state supreme court in its review noted that there was no standard established in the act for determining the amount of appropriate visitation. Further, trial court did not abuse discretion in determining the set amount of time in this case – which the supreme court found was not excessive. Rather, it was in the child’s best interests, and therefore, the entire trial court order was affirmed in its entirety.
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.
In re: The Visitation of L-A.D.W., R.W. v. M.D. and W.D., July 30, 2015, Indiana Supreme Court
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In re: Marriage of Honer – Valuation of Marital Assets, June 18, 2015, Indiana Family Law Attorney Blog