ILNews

Court reverses grandparent visitation

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with a father that his due process rights were violated when a trial court ordered grandparent visitation over his objection. The majority reversed the petition for grandparent visitation filed by the children's maternal grandparents, with one judge dissenting and writing the ruling would give parents a carte blanche to deny visitation for any reason.

In James M. Hicks v. Gary Larson and Judy Larson, No. 26A01-0707-CV-302, Hicks had two children with Geri Hicks, the daughter of the Larsons. The grandparents were allowed regular visitation while Geri and the children lived with the Larsons while she was going through chemotherapy because James had suffered a severe work-related injury. After Geri died, James remarried and his relationship with the Larsons deteriorated. Despite disagreements between Hicks and the grandparents, he allowed them to continue to see his daughters.

Three years after his second marriage, the daughters' stepmother became concerned Gary was behaving inappropriately with her stepdaughter, K.H., after overhearing the girl say she watched her grandfather take a shower and that K.H. slept in the same bed with her grandfather when she would visit overnight.

After an overnight visit, the stepmother saw K.H. touching herself inappropriately, and K.H. said she did so because her grandfather told her she could do it. Hicks and his wife called the Department of Family and Children, and caseworker Ann Sulawske interviewed K.H. The Gibson County Sheriff's Department also investigated the claim that alleged Gary inappropriately touched K.H.

The DFC substantiated the alleged molestation claims, telling the Hickses to not let the children be in the presence of Gary. After the investigation, a grand jury determined there wasn't enough evidence to support the molestation claim and returned a No Bill against him. The grandparents then filed a petition for visitation. The trial court concluded the Larsons would be irreparably harmed if they weren't allowed to visit with their grandchildren. The trial court noted that K.H. had developed a rash on her genital area; and the grandmother directed the grandfather to rub ointment on the affected area and he appropriately applied it.

It's a trial court's discretion to determine what is in a child's best interest and to presume a fit parent's decision is in the child's best interest, wrote Judge Paul Mathias. Grandparents bear the burden of rebutting the parent's decision to deny visitation was made in the child's best interest.

Even though the grandparents played a large role in the children's lives and the grand jury returned a No Bill against the grandfather regarding the molestation allegations, the DFC substantiated the molestation claim, concluding K.H. had been touched inappropriately and in a sexual way by her grandfather.

Gary's testimony at trial does not support the trial court's findings and at most established he may have touched K.H.'s genitals to apply a rash cream. His statements "do not support the trial court's conclusion under the clear and convincing evidence standard it cites that it is certain his only reason for touching K.H.'s genitals was to apply diaper rash cream," wrote Judge Mathias.

Because of Hicks' concern that Gary inappropriately touched K.H., it's his belief it's in the best interest of his children they do not have visitation with their grandparents. The parties conceded Hicks is a fit parent and the grandparents failed to rebut the presumption made by Hicks, wrote Judge Mathias.

Judge Margret Robb dissented, stating none of the evidence in way of testimony by the caseworker, K.H., or the sheriff's department is inconsistent with the trial court's finding and conclusion. The trial court heard all the evidence and determined Gary didn't molest his granddaughter, so therefore Hicks' belief is otherwise unreasonable, Judge Robb wrote. She suggests a more structured visitation plan including supervised visits to allow the grandchildren and grandparents to stay connected.

"My concern with the majority's statement is that it could give a parent almost carte blanche to deny grandparent visitation for any reason or no reason at all. The trial court, after listening to the testimony, concluded that the parent's reasons for denying visitation were unfounded and that awarding grandparents visitation with the children was in the children's best interests; thus, visitation in at least some form should be allowed," she wrote.
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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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