Order enabling grandparents to determine father’s visitation reversed

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A father who feared his poor relationship with his children’s grandparent guardians would prevent him from having visitation with his kids won a reversal of an order stating parenting time would be “agreed upon by the parties.”

In July 2017, the Indiana Department of Child Services filed a petition alleging that Brian Blankenship’s two daughters were children in need of services due to their parents’ drug use. The girls were placed with their maternal grandparents, Kathy and Larry Duke, who later sought guardianship after alleging Blankenship and the girls’ mother were “not presently capable of properly caring for” them.

During a guardianship hearing, a DCS family case manager testified that Blankenship had attended nearly every visit and that he had a good relationship with the children and was attentive to them and their needs. Blankenship was also noted as being compliant with drug screens, but the case manager still believed the grandparents should be appointed guardians. However, the case manager testified that it was also in the girls’ best interests to have a relationship with their father that included parenting time, with an ultimate goal of reunification.

Kathy Duke testified that in the four years the girls lived with her, Blankenship had two hours of weekly supervised visitation with his children. But the grandparents had a “No Trespassing Order” against him, and Kathy said that it wouldn’t be useful for her to communicate with Blankenship because they “can’t get along together.” She added that she did not try to communicate with Blankenship “at all.”

The Dukes’ guardianship order said parenting time for Blankenship was to be “agreed upon by the parties.” Blankenship appealed, arguing that Kathy testified to never having tried to communicate with him to facilitate visits with the children in the four years they lived with her. Blankenship also pointed out the high level of animosity between himself and Duke, and that in only granting him visitation as agreed upon by the parties, the order would “inevitably result in conflict and denial of visitation to [him].”

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, finding that by making the parties agree upon parenting time, the trial court essentially allowed the maternal grandparents to determine Blankenship’s parenting time with his children.

“It was error for the court to do so,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court in Guardianship: Brian Blankenship v. Kathy F. Duke, et al.,19A-GU-00518.  The panel noted the trial court decision conflicted with Manis v. McNabb, 104 N.E.3d 611 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018).

“We therefore vacate this part of the trial court’s order,” the panel concluded. “On remand, the trial court should ‘order reasonable parenting time for’ Father, balancing his right to visit Children with Children’s best interests.”

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