Reversal: Court can’t deny mother visitation without hearing

A mother was wrongly denied her petition for visitation with her daughter who is the subject of a guardianship, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday. The appellate court remanded the case to give the mother her day in court.

In Roxanna Prater v. Dianne Wineland and Steven Wineland, 20A-GU-895, Roxanna Prater petitioned the Noble Circuit Court for visitation with her now-11-year-old daughter. Her paternal grandparents, Dianne and Steve Wineland, are her guardians, and the girl, R.W., has lived with them since 2011.

When mother was to be released from jail in December 2016, the court the following May declined to modify the guardianship order, after which Prater asked for visitation. The trial court took no action as mother was again in jail, scheduled to be released in September 2017.

After she was released, mother again pleaded with the trial court in 2018 and 2019 for visitation, expressing a desire to have a relationship with her daughter. The court again took no action.

“In March 2020, Mother filed a pro se petition for visitation with R.W. The trial court summarily denied the petition without a hearing. Specifically, the following March 9, 2020, entry in the trial court’s Chronological Case Summary provides: ‘After reviewing letter filed by [Mother], Court now respon[ds] as follows: As guardians of the child, the guardians may decide what is best for the child,’” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote.

This was error, Pyle noted, adding emphasis while pointing to Indiana Code § 31-17- 4-1, which “specifically provides that ‘a parent not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable parenting time rights, unless the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time by the noncustodial parent might endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.’

“… Because the trial court erroneously failed to grant Mother a hearing on her visitation petition, we reverse and remand with instructions for the trial court to hold a hearing on Mother’s petition. We further note that the ‘best practice’ is for the trial court to make specific findings in support of its parenting time order,” Pyle concluded.

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