COA rules trial court erred in grandparent visitation case

The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned a ruling that had prevented a couple from seeing their grandchild, finding the trial court’s grant of the mother’s petition to dismiss the paternity cause after the grandparents had intervened would likely extinguish their right to visitation.

Teresa Tapia-Sevilla and Alfonso Sevilla filed a motion to intervene in the paternity case after a DNA test determined their son was the father of J.L. Their son, Jimmy Sevilla, was killed about six months after Maria Lopez gave birth to the child.

When Lopez filed a petition to establish paternity, the Sevillas filed their petition and requested visitation rights. No paternity order was ever entered but after the parties informed the Marion Superior Court they had worked out a plan for the Sevillas to spend time with J.L., the court entered an agreed order summarizing the visitation agreement.

However, the mother subsequently filed both a motion to dismiss the paternity cause and a request to stay the temporary order permitting the grandparents visitation. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and the grandparents appealed.

The appellate panel found the trial court erred by granting the mother’s motion to dismiss the paternity petition in Teresa Tapia Sevilla and Alfonso Sevilla v. Maria Lopez, 19A-JP-2016.

“Here, the Grandparents filed a petition to intervene in the paternity cause. When the trial court granted their petition to intervene, the Grandparents formally became part of the paternity cause,” now-Senior Judge John Baker wrote for the court. “Upon becoming parties to the case, the Grandparents pursued their claim for grandparent visitation, and Mother eventually contested that claim. While paternity causes do not generally include counterclaims or cross-claims, we can only conclude that the substantive nature of the request for grandparent visitation equates to the same. To permit Mother to dismiss the paternity cause after the Grandparents had already intervened would substantially prejudice — if not extinguish — their right to pursue visitation with their grandchild. Under these circumstances, we can only find that the trial court erred by granting Mother’s motion to dismiss the paternity petition.”

In footnotes, the Court of Appeals highlighted problematic filings from the grandparents.

The court noted the grandparents argued the paternity court erred by granting their petition to intervene. However, confessing its confusion, the court pointed out that if it found the paternity court had erred, then it would have reversed the grant of the petition and the grandparents would not be able to intervene.

Likewise, the court found the motion for grandparent visitation removed the case from the purview of Trial Rule 41(A)(1), which applies only where the adverse party has not served an answer or summary judgment motion. “Again, paternity causes do not generally include answers or summary judgment motions, but we find that the Grandparents’ intervention and motion for visitation sufficed to make them a part of the case such that Mother could not voluntarily dismiss the action without a court order under Trial Rule 41(A)(2),” Baker wrote.

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