Grandparents hold a special place in the family and often play a key role in the raising of grandchildren through the extra support they provide. Unfortunately, this pivotal part of the family structure is frequently one of the first to suffer in the event of divorce. The bond between grandparent and grandchild is typically strong, but the rights accorded to parents to decide who has access to a child normally trumps any desire of the grandparent to maintain contact. This reality is difficult for grandparents to understand, and the child is also often distressed by the loss of this figure in his/her life.
A bill was introduced in the Indiana Legislature at the beginning of the year that would have expanded the right of a grandparent to petition for visitation, but unfortunately, it was not passed. This means the rights of grandparents have not changed, and when divorce does occur, they need to understand the extent to which courts would be willing to consider ordering contact. An overview of how courts view grandparent requests for visitation, and when a grandparent may ask for contact, will follow below.
Grandparents’ Rights Generally
First and foremost, grandparents will never receive the same amount of rights that a child’s natural or adoptive parent has, as parents hold the fundamental right to direct the control and access of others to the child and how he/she will be raised, including grandparents. Thus, no court will approve a petition for visitation if it would substantially interfere with this right. This means visitation will not be as easily granted to a grandparent, and that even if it is, the contact will only be occasional and not the regular access divorced or unmarried parents receive as part of child custody. For this reason, grandparents need to keep their expectations realistic when seeking contact with a grandchild, and not envision the same level of involvement they may have had previously, though each case differs.
Petitioning for Visitation
Due to the reduced rights grandparents have as a general rule, the law only grants the right to ask for visitation in certain situations. Most notably, though, if the parents are still married and decide to cut off contact, the grandparent does not have any legal recourse to force access. The law specifically limits visitation petitions to the following situations:
- A parent is deceased;
- The parents were divorced under Indiana law; or
- The child was born out of wedlock, though the father must have established paternity for the paternal grandparents to have any rights.
Whether the court grants a request will rest on whether visitation would be in the best interests of the child. Courts will look at whether the grandparent made attempts to maintain meaningful contact with the child and could include an interview of the child to determine his/her perception of the grandparent and seeing him/her. This analysis is fact-driven, so the closer a grandparent was to the child before contact was restricted, the better the chance the court would order some amount of contact. Note that the adoption of a child by a step-parent or biological relative does not affect grandparent visitation, but the order can be modified or terminated at any time of the best interests of the child would be served by a change.
Call an Indiana Family Law Attorney
Being a part of a grandchild’s life is important and should be fought for if the circumstances allow for it. Christopher L. Arrington, P.C. has years of experience helping clients in a variety of family law matters and will know if your case is strong enough to file and potentially win visitation. Call the Brownsburg family law attorney today to schedule an appointment.