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Justices remand for more proceedings on grandparent visitation order

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After finding a grandparent visitation order entered in Johnson County is voidable because of defects, the Indiana Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for new findings and conclusions without hearing new evidence.

M.L.B. was born out of wedlock and never had a relationship with his biological father. But his paternal grandfather M.A.B. was present in the child’s life from the beginning and mother K.J.R. allowed the boy to have frequent contact with the family, as long as the biological father was not present. After her new husband sought to adopt M.L.B., she curtailed the visits. M.A.B. intervened in the proceedings to petition for grandparent visitation.

The court awarded him visitation beyond what the boy typically experienced, including overnights and a summer family vacation of up to 10 days. The mother appealed, arguing it violated her fundamental parental rights. A divided Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In In Re: Visitation M.L.B.: K.J.R. v. M.A.B., 41S01-1209-MI-556, Justice Loretta Rush outlined the four factors a grandparent visitation order should address, as discussed in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), and later adopted by the Court of Appeals in McCune v. Frey, 783 N.E.2d 752, 757-59 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), and by the Supreme Court in In Re K.I., 903 N.E.2d 453, 457 (Ind. 2009). The first three factors implement the constitutionally protected right of fit parents to make child-rearing decisions and reflect the significant burden of proof grandparents must carry to override those decisions. The order in the instant case is insufficient as to all three, Rush pointed out.

None of the trial court’s findings give any indication it recognized the presumption that a fit parent acts in his or her child’s best interests or special weight to a fit parent’s decision to deny or limit visitation. The justices also found that the amount of visitation awarded to M.A.B. far exceeded the parties’ earlier pattern.

On the fourth factor, which considers the child’s best interest, the trial court’s findings are amply supported by the evidence and that factor is satisfied.

“… despite the trial court’s ample ‘best interests’ findings, the lack of findings on the other three factors, both standing alone and as compounded by the extensive visitation awarded without those necessary findings, violates Mother’s fundamental right to direct M.L.B.’s upbringing,” Rush wrote for the unanimous court.

The justices found the trial court order is defective and voidable and ordered on remand for the trial court to issue new findings and conclusions as required by McCune and K.I.

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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