Divided COA reverses grandparent visitation order

July 15, 2014

Indiana Court of Appeals judges split on their views of the best interests of a child Tuesday, reversing a trial court order granting visitation to the paternal grandparents of a 4-year-old whose father committed suicide before the child was born.

The panel in April stayed the visitation order and retained jurisdiction while remanding to the trial court to make required findings to support its judgment allowing overnight visitation with the child, C.S.N.

Judges Patricia Riley and Melissa May concluded the trial court had erred by awarding grandparents visitation by making findings that failed to consider the totality of circumstances surrounding mother’s decision to restrict visitation that had been regular during the first few years of the child’s life.

“We are mindful of the deference to be accorded to the trial court regarding the weight of the evidence and assessment of witness credibility. However, by citing Mother’s failure to prove misconduct by Grandparents, the trial court improperly shifted the burden to Mother to establish that she acted in accordance with the Child’s best interests,” Riley wrote for the majority in In re: The Grandparent Visitation of C.S.N.: Brooke Neuhoff v. Scott A. Ubelhor and Angela S. Ubelhor, 19A05-1311-MI-542.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented and would affirm the trial court’s grandparent visitation order. She wrote the trial court’s findings found that mother’s justification for denying visitation “did not, in fact, hold water.”

“(D)eferring to the trial court’s superior opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses, I would find that the court did not abuse its discretion in granting Grandparents’ petition,” Vaidik wrote.



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