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Courts cannot force contact with extended family members other than grandparents

January 17, 2017

Courts do not have the authority to force parents to allow their children to have contact with members of their extended family, aside from grandparents, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided Tuesday.

After M.S. committed suicide in May 2015, J.S., his ex-wife, began to curtail the time their child, G.S., spent with her paternal relatives. J.S. had a particular issue with M.L., a paternal aunt with whom G.S. had been close, and did not want G.S. to spend time with her any longer.

However, M.L. lived with M.S., the grandmother, so J.S. required visits with the grandmother to occur outside of the home. However, M.S. had medical concerns that made leaving her home difficult, so she filed a petition for grandparent visitation in June 2015. But three months later, J.S. and G.S. moved to Tennessee because the mother received a promotion, significantly cutting down on the child’s contact with her paternal relatives.

The trial court granted the grandmother’s visitation petition in August 2016, ordering one visit per month for at least six hours at a time. Additionally, the court held all visitations between the grandmother and grandchild could be held in M.S.’s home, other residents of the home, including the aunt, were not required to leave during the visits, and other family members were allowed to be present either in-person or over the phone during the visits.

In the case of In Re: the Grandparent Visitation of G.S., J.S. v. M.S., 30A01-1608-DR-1801, J.S. appealed only the portion of the order mandating that her child be permitted to visit and have contact with paternal relatives other than the grandmother.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the mother Tuesday, with Judge John Baker writing for the unanimous panel that, “The General Assembly has seen fit to carve out a narrow, limited exception to a parent’s right to raise her children for grandparents. There is no such exception for anyone else, including other relatives.”

“Indeed, we encourage Mother to reconsider her position; considering all that Child has lost in her short life, it seems wise to permit her to maintain contact with anyone and everyone who loves and supports her,” Baker continued. “But while we encourage her to do so, we – and the trial court – are without authority to order her to do so.”

Thus, the appellate panel reversed the portions of the trial court’s order relating to all paternal relatives except for the grandmother.
 

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