COA affirms award of fees, dismissal of stepmom’s visitation suit

No reasonable attorney would have considered a stepmother’s visitation petition filed in a court other than that of the mother and father’s custody case to be justified or worthy of litigation, according to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The court affirmed dismissal of the case and an award of attorney fees to the mother.

Tia and Aaron Grimes have one child together, S.G., and divorced in 2011. The Marion Superior Court awarded Tia, now Tia Houser, sole legal and physical custody of S.G. but granted Aaron parenting time.

Houser and Aaron disagreed about parenting time over the years in Marion Superior Court 1. While their case was still ongoing, Aaron’s new wife, Jessica Grimes, filed a petition for visitation in Marion Superior Court 2, claiming Houser had blocked her from seeing S.G. since April 2016.

Houser then filed a motion to dismiss and a request for attorney’s fees in Jessica D. Grimes v. Tia L. Houser, 49A02-1711-MI-2695, asserting Marion Superior Court 1 had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over parenting time issues. The Marion Superior Court 2 granted Houser’s motion without a hearing, dismissing the case and ordering Grimes to pay Houser $875 in attorney’s fees, and the appellate court affirmed that ruling Wednesday.

Grimes argued that the court should not have dismissed her petition, nor awarded attorney’s fees to Houser.

The appellate court cited State ex rel. Meade v. Marshall Super. Ct. II, 644 N.E.2d 87 (Ind. 1994), in a similar case where the Indiana Supreme Court dismissed the petition of a stepmother seeking to bar a mother’s visitation even though the father and mother’s custody dispute was pending in a different court.

In Meade, the high court noted the interests of children require “stability and continuity” in the legal process, and efforts to avoid the usual procedures through collateral attack are prohibited.

The appellate court affirmed that Marion Superior Court 2 properly dismissed Grime’s petition for visitation, noting that even though Grimes said she was not a party to Aaron and Houser’s ongoing litigation in Superior Court 1, that issue “has no more bearing on jurisdiction than it did in the Meade case,” Senior Judge Randall Shepard wrote for the panel.

In regard to attorney’s fees, the appellate court found Grimes’ petition appeared to have been an attempt to circumvent Superior Court 1 while imposing additional expenses on Houser. It concluded by pointing out that based on precedent establishing that Superior Court 1 had jurisdiction over parenting time, “no reasonable attorney would have considered Grimes’ petition to be justified or worthy of litigation in Superior Court 2.”

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