Grandparents Have Rights Too!
Grandparents have rights to spend time with their grandchildren. In fact, Indiana has enacted a Grandparent Visitation Act allowing grandparents to seek assistance from a court if they are being denied the opportunity to spend time with their grandkids.
In a recent decision from the Indiana Supreme Court, the rights of grandparents and parents to parenting time was addressed. Specifically, the Court noted:
A child’s relationship with his grandparents is important, and can deserve protection under the Grandparent Visitation Act. But grandparent-visitation orders necessarily impinge, to some degree, on a parent’s constitutionally protected rights.
Based on these considerations, the Indiana Supreme Court held that when granting grandparents visitation rights, trial courts must: 1) include findings that address four factors balancing parents’ rights and the child’s best
interests; and 2) limit the visitation award to an amount that does not substantially infringe on parents’ rights to control the upbringing of their children.
The four factors a trial court must address are:
(1) a presumption that a fit parent’s decision about grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests (thus placing the burden of proof on the petitioning grandparents);
(2) the “special weight” that must therefore be given to a fit parent’s decision regarding nonparental visitation (thus establishing a heightened standard of proof by which a grandparent must rebut the presumption);
(3) “some weight” given to whether a parent has agreed to some visitation or denied it entirely (since a denial means the very existence of a child-grandparent relationship is at stake, while the question otherwise is merely how much visitation is appropriate); and
(4) whether the petitioning grandparent has established that visitation is in the child’s best interests.
Based on its analysis of these factors, the Indiana Supreme Court determined that grandparents were awarded too much and inappropriate amount of time. The Supreme Court found it particularly important that the trial court: 1) awarded more time than the mother had voluntarily allowed the grandparents to have before the court’s involvement; and 2) refused to impose as a condition on visitation that the biological father (who had recently lost his parental rights) not be present. The grandparents and mother had voluntarily imposed this condition for years. The Court noted that courts must be careful not to take away the fundamental right of parents to make child rearing decisions” by substituting a court’s own judgment of what would be “a ‘better’ decision.” While the Indiana Supreme Court did not set forth a clear road map for grandparents, this decision goes a long way to helping grandparents and their lawyers prove a case for more time with their grandkids. To read the Indiana Supreme Court’s complete opinion, see In re Visitation of M.L.B. (Ind. March 7, 2013).