Appellate court remands for mother in grandparent visitation dispute

The Indiana Court of Appeals has agreed with a Hamilton County mother who argued that grandparent visitation granted to her late husband’s parents was not supported by adequate findings.

While parents K.T.A. and A.A. worked to save money to purchase their own home, they moved in with A.A.’s parents and subsequently had their child, B.A. During that time, A.A.’s mother watched the child while the parents worked and continued to offer child while the parents’ new home was being renovated, allowing the child to spend most nights at the paternal grandparents’ home.

But after A.A. died by suicide in June 2020, K.T.A. and the child moved in with her parents, 45 minutes away from the paternal grandparents. After attempting to secure more time with the child by texting K.T.A. daily, the paternal grandparents filed a petition for grandparent visitation.

A.A.’s parents alleged K.T.A. had refused to communicate with them and had only allowed them to see the child for a few short visits, supervised by her parents. While they never alleged the child’s mother was unfit, they argued it was in the child’s best interests for more visits with them. The Hamilton Superior Court ultimately granted the paternal grandparents one day per week in their Indianapolis home when K.T.A. was working and one Saturday overnight visit in their home every third weekend.

But an appellate panel agreed with K.T.A that the trial court’s findings and conclusions were inadequate to support the grandparent visitation order. The COA remanded with instructions for the entry of new findings and conclusions revealing its consideration of all relevant factors as required by In re Visitation of M.L.B., 983 N.E.2d 583 (Ind. 2013), without hearing new evidence.

“Our application of these principles to the facts of this case leads us to conclude that, despite Paternal Grandparents’ strained interpretation to the contrary, the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions thereon are inadequate,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the appellate court.

As to the first two factors, the appellate court noted that none of the trial court’s findings gave any indication that it recognized the “presumption that a fit parent acts in his or her child’s best interests” nor did the findings give “special weight … to a fit parent’s decision to deny or limit visitation.” Those omissions rendered the trial court’s order unconstitutional, it concluded.

Further, the trial court failed to address the third factor of whether K.T.A. had denied the paternal grandparents visitation or had simply limited it, the COA continued.

“As the Indiana Supreme Court explained in M.L.B., ‘[t]he first three factors implement the constitutionally protected right of fit parents to make child rearing decisions, and reflect the significant burden of proof grandparents must carry to override those decisions.’ Here, our review of the trial court’s order in this case reveals that it is insufficient as to all three of the required factors,” Pyle concluded.

The case is In Re: The Grandparent Visitation of B.A.A.; K.T.A. v. R.A. and M.A., 21A-MI-258.

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