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Appeals court reverses judge on visitation ruling

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The state’s intermediate appellate court has reversed a southern Indiana judge’s ruling that a boyfriend should retain visitation rights over an ex-girlfriend’s child. It ruled that the finding is contrary to law because lawmakers didn’t allow for that type of circumstance to warrant visitation.

A unanimous decision came today in K.S. v. B.W., No. 22A05-1102-DR-79, a case from Floyd Superior Judge Susan Orth and Magistrate Judge Daniel B. Burke, Jr. The case involved a child, M.M., born in September 2002. The child’s biological father died the following spring and for about three years starting in 2004, the mother K.S. dated B.W., living with him in West Virginia. The child called B.W. “daddy” and “dad” during that time and the boyfriend was listed on M.M.’s school enrollment papers as her dad. After the two broke up in September 2007, the mother allowed for her ex-boyfriend to maintain regular visits even after she married another man in 2009 and moved back to Indiana.

B.W. filed a motion in September 2009 to establish him as a de factor parent and allow for parenting time, but the mother moved to dismiss that motion for failure to state a claim. She stopped allowing her ex-boyfriend visitation about eights months later.

The trial court last year denied the mother’s motion to dismiss and B.W.’s request to be named a de facto parent, but granted his request to visit with the child every other weekend and ordered the parties meet halfway between Indiana and West Virginia to exchange the girl. The court also denied K.S.’s request that B.W. pay her attorney fees, and early this year the court denied her requests that the judgment be stayed and errors corrected.

In the six-page decision Wednesday, Judge Melissa May wrote that the trial court’s decision was contrary to Indiana Code 31-9-2-25.5 defining a de facto custodian. Specifically, that statute defines someone in that role as the primary caregiver and financial support-giver of a child residing with him or her for at least six months if the child is younger than 3 and at least one year if the child is at least 3 years old. The statute applies only to custody proceedings after a paternity determination, actions for child custody or modification of custody, and temporary placement of a child in need of services taken into custody.

The Court of Appeals also cited Indiana Supreme Court caselaw holding that the statute only applies to custody and is silent on visitation. One of the most recent decisions on that came in K.I. ex rel. J.I. v. J.H., 903 N.E. 2d 453, 461-62 (Ind. 2009), and the Court of Appeals determined that the reasoning in K.I. controls in this situation.

“We must accordingly reverse the grant of visitation to B.W. because (he) is not M.M.’s father,” Judge May wrote. “While he was an important part of M.M.’s life at one time, Indiana does not provide for an order of visitation under this circumstance.”

The appellate panel affirmed the lower court’s denial of K.S.’s request for attorney fees, which she had argued should be awarded because B.W.’s claims were “unreasonable, groundless, and frivolous.” But the appellate court determined state statute allows for attorney fees to go to a “prevailing party” and the trial court was correct in denying those fees because K.S. didn’t prevail at trial.

Reading the court’s ruling, Indianapolis attorney Andrew Soshnick – past chair of the Indiana State Bar Association’s Family Law section – found the attorney fee aspect of the case interesting since the appeals court found the trial court had wrongly ruled against the mother on the visitation issue and in that reversal essentially declared her as “prevailing” after the fact.

He noted that the attorney fee statute, Indiana Code 34-52-1-1(b)(2) goes to meritless claims, and that while the mother could argue that B.W. brought a meritless claim because of what state law says, his argument wasn’t without merit. He suggested that the trial and appellate courts might not have wanted to assess attorney fees against the ex-boyfriend because he had been such an important part of the child’s life at one point before she remarried.

“Given the discretion in applying the fee statute, and the politics of the situation, it is not surprising that the fee denial was upheld,” Soshnick said.
 

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  1. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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