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Judges uphold denying visitation to ex-partner

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today that lawmakers didn’t intend to allow parents to establish joint custody with third parties under Indiana Code Section 31-17-2-3 by simply filing a joint petition with a trial court. Doing so would allow parents and third parties to circumvent the requirements of the Adoption Act.

“We conclude that Indiana Code section 31-17-2-3 does not contemplate the creation of a shared custody arrangement between a parent and a nonparent, regardless of the consent of the parties,” wrote Judge Paul Mathias in M.S. v. C.S., No. 03A01-1003-DR-140, in which a woman challenged the trial court’s ruling to vacate a previous custody and visitation order after she and her same-sex partner broke up.

C.S. had a child with donor sperm while she and M.S. were a couple. They filed a joint petition to determine custody, in which they sought joint legal custody and for M.S. to have parenting time. In September 2007, the trial court granted the petition; after the couple broke up, the trial court held it had no legal authority to enter the previous order and voided it. After a hearing in 2010, the trial court vacated the September 2007 order.

In addition to arguing the order was valid under I.C. Section 31-17-2-3, M.S. also claimed the 2007 order was binding because the parties consented to its entry. She wanted the appellate court to extend I.C. Section 31-15-2-17 to cover her situation because the protections provided by the dissolution statues should apply to all children, regardless of whether they are born into a traditional family or not.

“While we are mindful of the needs of children born into nontraditional families, we must also interpret the statute according to its plain and ordinary meaning. We … are further constrained to leave the public policy determinations attendant to the regulation of legal relationships within nontraditional families to the legislative branch of our government, the General Assembly,” wrote the judge.

The appellate court also rejected M.S.’s arguments that the trial court abused its discretion by modifying the custody and parenting time schedule in the 2007 order without a petition to modify or show substantial change in circumstances; and that she is entitled to parenting time with S.S.

Because the original order was void ab initio and a legal nullity, there was no legally effective custody or parenting time schedule to modify, wrote Judge Mathias. In addition, M.S. waived any claim on appeal that she is the child’s legal parent, so she isn’t entitled to parenting time with the child.

The judges cited King v. S.B., 837 N.E.2d 965, 966 (Ind. 2005), in which the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court grant of the mother’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, holding that the mother’s former domestic partner was not necessarily precluded from being awarded some of the relief sought. The ex sued to be recognized as the child’s legal parent or to be awarded continued visitation with the child.

“Assuming without deciding that third-party visitation is not limited to former stepparents based on our supreme court’s holding in King, we conclude that M.S. is not entitled to visitation with S.S.,” wrote the judge.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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