COA reaffirms trial court should hear grandparents’ visitation argument

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reiterated that a pair of grandparents seeking to visit their deceased son’s child should be given their day in court.

Megan Knight and Ashley Carpenter filed a petition for rehearing after the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment entered in their favor. The appellate panel granted the petition but only for the limited purpose of addressing one issue.

Previously, the women each had a child out of wedlock with Braden Walker, who established paternity. They have since married, and their respective husbands filed petitions for step-parent adoption after Braden died.

Initially, the mothers and the grandparents, Robert and Patricia Walker, entered into a written agreement that the trial court would address the issue of grandparent visitation only after the adoptions were finalized. However, once the adoptions were completed, the mothers argued the Walkers no longer had standing to seek grandparent visitation.

The Hamilton Superior Court agreed with the mothers. It found the death of their son and the step-fathers’ acts of adopting the children severed the legal, familiar relationship between the Walkers and the two children.

The grandparents appealed, and in January the Court of Appeals reversed in Robert Walker and Patricia Walker v. Megan (Buckner) Knight and Robert Walker and Patricia Walker v. Ashley Erin Carpenter, 18A-MI-1768. Then the appellate court remanded for further proceedings on the petitions for grandparent visitation.

In its order on rehearing issued Friday, the panel addressed the mothers’ request for clarification on the court’s holding that the Walkers are entitled to proceed “on the merits.”

“We intended to give the trial court the opportunity to hear the merits of the Walkers’ petitions for grandparent visitation since the Walkers and the Mothers stipulated to this procedure in their agreement,” Judge John Baker wrote for the court. “In so ordering, we are not preventing the step-fathers from being heard. Rather, we are simply enforcing the agreement signed by the Mothers and the Walkers that the trial court should hear the Walkers’ argument on why they are entitled to grandparent visitation.”

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