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COA reverses vacation of grandparent visitation

March 27, 2013

Even though a grandmother lacked standing to pursue a grandparent visitation order when it was granted, the trial court erred in later vacating the order, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. The grandchildren’s guardians’ objections to the grandmother’s lack of standing were waived when they failed to appeal the original order.

J.C. is the mother of M.A., who had two daughters with his wife. The girls were home when he shot and killed his wife. M.A. went to prison and the girls moved in with M.A.’s half brother J.B. and his partner S.B. The couple later filed for guardianship of the girls, in which the grandmother filed to intervene and a petition for visitation.

J.C. was eventually granted unsupervised grandparent visitation on a strict schedule. The guardians didn’t appeal the original order or an amended order. After the grandmother initiated a telephone call between one of the girls and her incarcerated father, the guardians sought to terminate J.C.’s visitation. They claimed she never had standing under the grandparent visitation statute. J.C. argued that the guardians waived their standing by consenting to the provisional visitation agreement and by not appealing the original visitation order.

The trial court ruled in favor of the guardians and vacated the visitation order.

The Court of Appeals reversed, pointing out that the grandmother’s appeal is not moot because the girls were adopted by J.B., who is the girls’ uncle. It does not matter that S.B. is not biologically related to the girls.

J.C. does not have standing under the Act because she is the parent of M.A., who is still alive and her son’s marriage was not dissolved at the time of his wife’s death. But although the initial visitation order was erroneous, the guardians waived their objections to J.C.’s standing when they failed to appeal.

“Given that nearly a year has passed since the grandparent visitation order has been vacated, it may be wise for the trial court to schedule a hearing sua sponte on the children’s best interests to determine whether and to what extent grandparent visitation should occur in the future,” Judge John Baker wrote in In Re The Guardianship of A.J.A. and L.M.A., J.C. v. J.B. and S.B., 48A02-1204-GU-326.

 

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