ILNews

Court grants visitation for partner in guardianship case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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When Patrick Atkins suffered a brain hemorrhage and subsequent stroke on a business trip in 2005, his partner of almost 30 years wanted to be there and visit.

While Atkins' family didn't approve of the relationship, Brett Conrad was allowed to visit and have contact with his partner at first. But the family began cutting off that contact and eventually the two sides went to court over visitation rights and guardianship. Conrad lost in Hamilton Superior Court before Judge Steven Nation, who granted guardianship to Atkins' family and allowed them control of visitation - which they'd said in trial would not be allowed for Conrad.

Today, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that lower court's decision and gave the Fishers man visitation rights and contact with Atkins. The 2-1 ruling came in Guardianship of Patrick Atkins; Brett Conrad v. Thomas Atkins and Jeanne Atkins, No. 29A02-0606-CV-471.

"We are confronted here with the heartbreaking fracture of a family," Chief Judge John Baker wrote. "Brett and Patrick have spent twenty-five years together as life partners - longer than Patrick lived at home with his parents - and their future life together has been destroyed by Patrick's tragic medical condition and by the Atkinses' unwillingness to accept their son's future.

"Although we are compelled to affirm the trial court's order that the Atkinses be appointed Patrick's co-guardians under our standard of review, we reverse the trial court with respect to Brett's request for visitation inasmuch as all credible evidence in the record establishes that it is in Patrick's best interest to continue to have contact with his life partner."

The appellate court also found that the trial court should have required Patrick's presence at the hearing, but that his court-appointed guardian ad litem waived that right by failing to enforce it. Additionally, the court concluded the lower court properly set off the couple's Charles Schwab account to the guardianship estate, but that it erroneously refused Conrad's request for the estate to pay some of his attorney fees and costs.

Judge Carr Darden was the lone dissenter on this case, writing a nearly four-page separate opinion.

Noting that the majority relied on Indiana Code section 29-3-5-3(b) to declare the trial court was required to enter orders encouraging development of Patrick's self-improvement and well-being, Judge Darden wrote, "I can agree that such would indeed be a laudable goal of a guardianship order, but I cannot agree this is what the statute requires."

He also notes that the majority has "impermissibly reweighed evidence and assessed witness credibility in violation of our long accepted standard of review."
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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