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Justices: Order giving grandmother visitation rights is void

July 18, 2013

Because a grandmother did not have standing under the terms of Indiana’s Grandparent Visitation Statute to pursue visitation, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that an original order granting visitation is void. The woman wanted to see her two grandchildren whose mother was murdered by the grandmother’s son.

Paternal grandmother J.C. filed a petition to intervene in the guardianship of A.J.A. and L.M.A., who were in the custody of their uncle and his partner after their father murdered their mother. J.C. sought grandparent visitation rights and was granted supervised visitation in 2009. The guardians later sought to end her visitation rights after learning J.C. allowed contact between grandchildren and her son, who was in prison for the murder.

In 2012, the trial court declared the 2009 order void after finding J.C. lacked standing under the Grandparent Visitation Statute.

The law allows grandparents to petition for visitation if the child’s parent is deceased, the marriage of the child’s parents has been dissolved in Indiana, or the child was born out of wedlock. J.C. claimed that her son should be considered deceased because of his 60-year prison sentence or that the marriage between her son and his wife is dissolved because of the murder.

“In the present case, both of Grandmother’s theories would produce an absurd result. Her first theory, that her son is for all intents and purposes deceased, unfortunately attempts to circumvent the strict interpretation the statute is due and therefore her argument fails. Her son is not dead,” Justice Steven David wrote. “Grandmother’s other theory for grandparent visitation is that by virtue of the murder, the marriage was dissolved. This produces an even more nonsensical result. We cannot construe any scenario where the General Assembly intended the Grandparent Visitation Act to potentially require grandparent visitation by the mother of an individual who shot and killed the grandchildren’s other parent.”

The justices held that the original order granting J.C. visitation was void and thus without legal effect. They affirmed the 2012 order finding the same result.

“This is a case where Grandmother had no legal right to pursue grandparent visitation under the statute. Remand cannot cure the defect. The only cure is to hold the original order was void ab initio,” David wrote in In Re the Guardianship of A.J.A. and L.M.A., Minor Children; J.C. v. J.B. and S.B., 48S02-1305-GU-398.

 

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