Grandparents are an important part of many of their grandkids’ lives. Grandparents tend to help watch us growing up and provide many of us with invaluable life lessons they taught their own children. In many respects in today’s busy world, grandparents often times almost act as second parents. The Indiana Legislature, for this very reason, passed statutes providing grandparents with the legal right to go to court to seek visitation1. However, the situations are limited in which grandparents are entitled to seek visitation, but, due to their impactful nature on a child, grandparents are given certain legal remedies in court; an important recent case decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals squarely protecting grandparents’ rights is covered in this blog.
As you might imagine, the grandparents’ visitation statutes are typically only used by grandparents in situations where the biological parent, for whatever reason, does not want the minor child around the grandparents and denies contact, forcing the grandparents to litigate. The trial court, therefore, has the unenviable job of balancing a biological or adoptive parent’s fundamental right to parent2 against the grandparent’s right to seek visitation. This very balance was exhibited and weighed in favor of the grandparents in the Court of Appeals recent decision of Walker v. Knight3. Specifically, in Walker v. Knight, the grandparents were challenging the trial court’s order granting summary judgment for the Mothers of the Children, following step-parent adoption, prohibiting the potential for grandparent visitation4.
Here are the key facts: The Walkers (the “Grandparents”) were the paternal grandparents of two minor children from their son born to two different Mothers. The Walkers son passed away, and both Mothers each remarried. Both of these new husbands filed petitions for adoption by a step-parent of each of the minor children, respectively. The Grandparents, fearing they would not get to see their grandchildren once adopted, filed petitions for grandparent visitation pursuant to the statute. The Grandparents and both Mothers entered into an agreement that the grandparent visitation matter would be stayed (stopped) until the adoptions were completed. Upon completion of the adoptions, both Mothers surprised the Grandparents and filed motions for summary judgment against the Grandparents. The trial court granted the motions for summary judgment thus ending the Grandparents’ case for visitation on a technicality.
In reversing the decision of the trial court, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that the grandparents had, in fact, preserved their right to a hearing on grandparent visitation. In reaching this decision, the Court of Appeals pointed out that the Grandparents and Mothers had entered into an agreement, and such agreement should be upheld. Specifically noting that, “[f]or situations as delicate and personal as negotiating family visitations, we want people to work these matters out in a similar fashion . . . [n]ot enforcing this crucial agreement might discourage parties from doing exactly what the Walkers and the Mothers intended to do in the first place: allow themselves to privately resolve a very personal and sensitive matter.” While the Court of Appeals never stated that the Grandparents had a right to visitation, they did make it clear that they had a right to a hearing, and in doing so, promoted informal resolution by parties in similar situations, as well as reinforcing the right to have your day in court; this is where skilled counsel in this area is key to developing the necessary evidence.
Overcoming the natural parent’s right is the task at hand where grandparent rights is at issue. It has constitutional dimensions, complex legal standards and evidentiary showings, and is often wrought with overwhelming emotion. Thus, advocating for you and fighting for your legal rights in such a situation begins with retaining skilled trial counsel, and if necessary later, appellate counsel. Such counsel will know the status of developments in the caselaw, like the Walker v. Knight case, to protect you. Also, learning about the law and seeking your right to counsel is the key to protecting your right as a grandparent, as well as being an engaged citizen in our participatory system of government. This blog post on a key new case is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle all aspects of grandparent visitation proceedings throughout the State as well as all types of appeals to ensure justice like the Walker case reflects. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- Ind. Code 31-17-5 et. al.
- This fundamental right of natural and adoptive parents was addressed in a similar case by the United States Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2010).
- Walker v. Knight, 18A-MI-1768 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019).
- A court will grant a party’s motion for summary judgment when there is “no genuine issue of material fact.” In other words, the non-moving party has no possible way to win the legal battle.