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Do Hoosier grandparents have a right to see their grandchildren?

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2019 | Custody and Visitation

The short answer is yes, but only in narrow circumstances and only if it is in the child’s best interest. That is sometimes hard to hear, but the U.S. Supreme Court has said that grandparent visitation rights must be balanced with parental constitutional rights to control and direct the care and upbringing of their children.

Because of that high court ruling, states have had to narrowly tailor their grandparent visitation laws to accommodate parents’ rights to say who can see their kids, to put it broadly.

Indiana limits on grandparent visitation

Indiana’s statutes say that a grandparent may petition the state court for the right to reasonable visitation with a grandchild in any one of three situations:

  • One of the grandchild’s parents is deceased.
  • The grandchild’s parents were divorced in Indiana. (If the divorce was in another state, the grandparent may have still have standing in certain circumstances.)
  • The grandchild’s parents were not married when the child was born. In this situation, the father’s parents may not seek visitation unless paternity has been legally established.

The grandparent’s petition must also be served on the parents whether or not they have custody of the grandchild as well as on any guardians.

Grandchild’s best interests

If the grandparent has standing because one of these circumstances exists, the court must then decide if visitation with the grandparents would be in the best interests of the grandchild. The judge may consider past “meaningful contact” between the grandparent and grandchild as well as whether the grandparent has tried to have such contact. The court also may interview the child in chambers about the child’s opinion on the matter.

The court’s order on a grandparent petition for visitation (whether it was granted or denied) is subject to later modification if the change would be in the grandchild’s best interest.

The grandparent’s petition must be filed before a court allows the grandchild to be adopted. However, if a grandparent has visitation rights, those rights are not compromised by a later adoption of the child by a stepparent or a blood relative who is another grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew.

There have been legislative attempts to expand grandparent visitation rights in Indiana that have so far failed. Currently, a bill that would do so is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee