Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Indiana Case: Grandparent Visitation Denied

Last month, the Indiana Court of Appeals handed down In the Matter of the Visitation of C.L.H.; B.L.H. v. G.L.H. and B.J.H.. Which I am now thinking may be a rather important grandparent visitation case.

Summarizing the facts rather bluntly: mother and parents have good relationship with one another during the early years of child's life until mother begins relationship with another woman.

Here is the visitation schedule given to the grandparents:

Accordingly, the trial court ordered that Grandparents are to have visitation with C.L.H. for ten hours per month. In addition, Grandparents are to have visitation with C.L.H. for eleven hours on Grandmother‟s birthday each year, eleven hours on the Saturday before C.L.H.‟s birthday each year, one overnight during Christmas break each year, eleven hours on “Grandparents Day,” and two overnights each in June and July every year.
Opinion at page 11.

The opinion provides a good overview of The Primacy of Parental Rights (page 12) and suggest that be read by all grandparents seeking visitation (and maybe even some parents).

The Court of Appeals restates the current case law on grandparent visitation (page 13 - 14) with a reminder that the grandparents face the burden of rebutting a parent's denial of visitation. Which may also serve as a reminder that Indian has rights for a grandparent (unlike some comments made before on this blog) but that they do not ordinarily trump parental rights.

Mother argued that the judgment was unsupported by the evidence and the Court of Appeals answered:
Here, the trial court‟s visitation order is not supported by its findings or the undisputed evidence. The record reveals a significant level of discord between Grandparents and Mother due to Mother‟s relationship with K.W. and K.W.‟s relationship with C.L.H. The trial court found that the parties had “hurt” one another, but the court‟s order does not indicate that it considered the totality of the circumstances in determining the best interests of C.L.H.

The GAL found that Mother‟s reasons for denying Grandparents visitation “are valid given the interactions between the family members over the last year or so.” Appellant‟s App. at 159. While a trial court is not required to accept a parent‟s reasons for denying visitation with grandparents as necessarily true, Hicks, 884 N.E.2d at 875, here, the undisputed evidence shows that Mother is a reasonable person and has a rational basis for the decision, which she did not come to easily. The trial court did not make any finding regarding the validity or reasonableness of Mother‟s decision.
Opinion at 15 -16.

Some miscellaneous points:
  1. The GAL was originally objected to by Mother but the GAL report supported Mother. Sometimes what we think will not be an aid is one.
  2. The excerpted GAL report is the kind of report I would always like to see - not so much for its supporting the case but for its content striking me as professional and truly investigative.
  3. A reminder that family law remains a court of equity is this sentence: "Grandparents did not have clean hands when they filed their petition for visitation." (Opinion at 15).
  4. I see here a good example of how wrong a trial judge can get and the solution, an appeal.
  5. While a reminder that conservative Indiana does not disfavor gay and lesbian parents, it is better to remember the paramount place given to the child's best interests.

No comments: