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COA: Grandma didn't have standing to petition for visitation

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the denial of a mother’s request to set aside grandparent visitation, finding the grandmother filed her petition in the incorrect court.

In Visitation of P.V.D. and P.I.D.; P.M. v. K.B., No. 45A03-1102-JM-79, mother P.M. challenged the grant of grandparent visitation rights to her mother K.B. P.M.’s two children were born out of wedlock, but P.M. moved to Illinois to be with their father and the two later married.

Before P.M. married, K.B. filed a petition for visitation in Lake County under the Grandparent Visitation Act. P.M. asked for a hearing to be continued because she was injured in a car accident and unable to travel, but the trial court denied her request and conducted a hearing on the grandmother’s petition. Neither parent of the minor children was present for the hearing.

The trial court concluded that the grandmother had overcome the presumption that the parents’ wishes to limit her visitation were in the children’s best interests, and that both parents should be defaulted for not appearing. The judge ordered K.B. the “maximum grandparent visitation rights allowed under Indiana law,” which included one weekend a month, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Day.

K.B. later filed a motion to find the parents in contempt of the visitation order. The trial court found the parents in contempt and ordered father to 30 days in jail, which was withheld if he complied with the order. The parents were also ordered to pay K.B.’s attorney fees and allow for double visitation for the next three months to make up for the time that K.B. lost.

P.M. filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that K.B. didn’t have standing to seek visitation under the GVA, which the trial court denied. The trial court found it had jurisdiction by virtue of the children’s relocation to another state less than six months before K.B. filed her petition and the fact that no action for visitation had been filed in Illinois.

But the action should have been filed in Illinois instead of Lake County, the appellate court concluded. Indiana Code 31-17-5-4 requires the grandparent seeking visitation rights to file the petition in a court in the county in which the children reside. In addition, P.M. and her husband haven’t dissolved their marriage in any Indiana court, so under the plain language of the statute, Lake County is not the proper venue for the petition, wrote Judge Cale Bradford.

The judges reversed the denial of P.M.’s motion to set aside the visitation order, and remanded with instructions to rescind the previous order granting K.B. visitation with the children under the GVA. Any future requests for visitation should be filed in the county in which the children live in Illinois.

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