ILNews

Court affirms stepfather's visitation rights

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals April 23 affirmed a trial court's decision that a stepfather may continue to have visitation rights with his stepdaughter even though the mother wanted his visitation rights terminated.

In Nicole A. Shaffer v. Robert J. Schaffer, No. 22A04-0709-CV-513, Nicole requested Robert's third-party stepparent visitation rights with her daughter, M.S., be terminated because it was in her daughter's best interest to not have any more contact with Robert. Nicole and Robert were married when she had a child by another man; Robert knew the child was not biologically his, was listed as the father on the birth certificate, and raised the girl as his daughter. When the Shaffers divorced, Nicole was awarded sole custody and Robert was granted visitation because of his custodial relationship with the young girl. DNA testing when M.S. was almost 6 confirmed Charles Moon was the biological father of M.S., and Moon was awarded parenting time as well.

Robert filed a petition to modify visitation in 2007; Nicole asked that the court terminate his visitation rights because he is not the biological father. Nicole wanted Robert's rights terminated because she believed M.S. would be confused by spending time at three different households, and she wanted her daughter to develop a father-daughter relationship with Moon.

The trial court reduced Robert's visitation rights and denied Nicole's request for termination of visitation.

Nicole believed the trial court violated her fundamental right as a parent to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her child, citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66 (2000). In Troxel, the U.S. Supreme Court held a Washington grandparent visitation statute unconstitutionally infringed on the fundamental rights of a parent and ruled it is for the parent to decide whether a relationship between the grandparents and child would be beneficial.

Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote the appellate court agreed with Nicole that cases involving initial grandparent visitation rights should be extended to stepparent visitation proceedings.

However, in the instant case, the court is asked to rule on a visitation modification, not the initial visitation determination.

Judge Vaidik cites Francis v. Francis, 654 N.E.2d 4 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), which dealt with third-party stepparent visitation issues. In that case, Robert Francis petitioned the court to enforce his initial visitation order with two children he raised as his own with his ex-wife, Anita, until he discovered a different man fathered both children. Anita wanted the visitation reduced after she married the children's biological father. The trial court expanded Robert Francis' visitation because it was in the best interest of the children, which the appellate court affirmed.

The issue in Shaffer in modifying visitation is whether the modification is in the best interest of M.S., wrote Judge Vaidik, because the existence of a custodial and parental relationship between M.S. and Robert was already established when he was originally awarded visitation.

Nicole needed to show why Robert's visitation rights should be terminated, but the trial court ruled she didn't introduce any evidence to show termination would be in M.S.'s best interest. As the appellate court ruled in Francis, a parent's mere protest that visitation with a third party would somehow harm the family isn't enough to deny visitation in all cases, especially when the third party cared for the children as his own, wrote Judge Vaidik.
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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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