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Court rules on grandparent visitation

January 1, 2007
What is likely to be a ruling of first impression in Indiana and one of a few nationally, the Indiana Court of Appeals today reversed a ruling that had ended a grandmother's visitation with her grandson following the adoption of her adult mother.

The 11-page ruling comes in a guardianship action involving the minor, J.E.M, in Maxine E. Handshoe v. Jessica L. Ridgway, No. 76A03=0612-CV-603.

Grandmother Maxine Handshoe is appealing the Steuben Circuit ruling that terminated her visitation privileges with her biological grandson, J.E.M, who was born out of wedlock in 2001 to her daughter, Ridgway. The grandmother had guardianship until April 2005, when Ridgeway - at age 22 - was adopted in Michigan by her second cousins. She filed a petition to end guardianship and visitation, arguing that Handshoe was no longer J.E.M.'s grandmother by virtue of the adoption. The trial court agreed.

However, in analyzing the issue on appeal, the three-judge appellate panel examined the state's Grandparent Visitation Act.

"The GVA is silent, however, on the question of the effect of an adult parent's adoption on the ability of a biological grandparent to seek visitation with his or her grandchild," the court wrote. "This is a question of first impression in Indiana. Our research has revealed that it also appears to be an issue that seldom has arisen anywhere in the country."

Relying on a decision from a Florida appeals court, Indiana's jurists found that the adoption only applies to Ridgway - not the minor child.

"We conclude that Ridgway's decision to legally sever ties with her biological mother, Handshoe, does not automatically and for purposes of the GVA sever all of Handshoe's ties with her biological grandson, J.M., who himself has not been adopted by any third party," the court wrote, adding that the mother's decision to terminate visitation could be a consideration in whether further visitation should be allowed.
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