ILNews

Court affirms stepfather's visitation rights

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals April 23 affirmed a trial court's decision that a stepfather may continue to have visitation rights with his stepdaughter even though the mother wanted his visitation rights terminated.

In Nicole A. Shaffer v. Robert J. Schaffer, No. 22A04-0709-CV-513, Nicole requested Robert's third-party stepparent visitation rights with her daughter, M.S., be terminated because it was in her daughter's best interest to not have any more contact with Robert. Nicole and Robert were married when she had a child by another man; Robert knew the child was not biologically his, was listed as the father on the birth certificate, and raised the girl as his daughter. When the Shaffers divorced, Nicole was awarded sole custody and Robert was granted visitation because of his custodial relationship with the young girl. DNA testing when M.S. was almost 6 confirmed Charles Moon was the biological father of M.S., and Moon was awarded parenting time as well.

Robert filed a petition to modify visitation in 2007; Nicole asked that the court terminate his visitation rights because he is not the biological father. Nicole wanted Robert's rights terminated because she believed M.S. would be confused by spending time at three different households, and she wanted her daughter to develop a father-daughter relationship with Moon.

The trial court reduced Robert's visitation rights and denied Nicole's request for termination of visitation.

Nicole believed the trial court violated her fundamental right as a parent to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her child, citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 66 (2000). In Troxel, the U.S. Supreme Court held a Washington grandparent visitation statute unconstitutionally infringed on the fundamental rights of a parent and ruled it is for the parent to decide whether a relationship between the grandparents and child would be beneficial.

Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote the appellate court agreed with Nicole that cases involving initial grandparent visitation rights should be extended to stepparent visitation proceedings.

However, in the instant case, the court is asked to rule on a visitation modification, not the initial visitation determination.

Judge Vaidik cites Francis v. Francis, 654 N.E.2d 4 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), which dealt with third-party stepparent visitation issues. In that case, Robert Francis petitioned the court to enforce his initial visitation order with two children he raised as his own with his ex-wife, Anita, until he discovered a different man fathered both children. Anita wanted the visitation reduced after she married the children's biological father. The trial court expanded Robert Francis' visitation because it was in the best interest of the children, which the appellate court affirmed.

The issue in Shaffer in modifying visitation is whether the modification is in the best interest of M.S., wrote Judge Vaidik, because the existence of a custodial and parental relationship between M.S. and Robert was already established when he was originally awarded visitation.

Nicole needed to show why Robert's visitation rights should be terminated, but the trial court ruled she didn't introduce any evidence to show termination would be in M.S.'s best interest. As the appellate court ruled in Francis, a parent's mere protest that visitation with a third party would somehow harm the family isn't enough to deny visitation in all cases, especially when the third party cared for the children as his own, wrote Judge Vaidik.
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  1. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  2. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  3. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  4. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

  5. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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