by Philip C. Sheward August, 2011
Most of us have heard the adage that, "it takes a village to raise a child." Many families find this to be particularly true when both parents work outside the home or if the parents are separated and much of the child-rearing responsibilities fall upon a single parent. It has become increasingly common for grandparents to play a consistent and active role in taking care of their grandchildren while mom and/or dad are at work. Because of this dynamic, many grandparents have closer relationships with their grandchildren than ever before. Even if grandparents aren't involved with child rearing assistance, the grandparent/grandchild relationship is a special, often unbreakable bond.
Unfortunately, no family is perfect and sometimes family discord can lead to grandparents being denied the ability to spend time with their grandchildren. When that happens, what can a grandparent do? Fortunately, in Indiana, grandparents do have some rights they may pursue if they feel that access to their grandchild is being denied by the child's parent(s).
Indiana grandparents can ask a court to order visitation with their grandchild if: 1) the child's parent is deceased, 2) the child's parents have been divorced (in certain circumstances), or 3) the child was born out-of-wedlock (though in that case, paternal grandparents can't seek visitation rights unless paternity has been formally established).
To obtain a grandparent visitation order from a court, grandparents must file a petition that explains the grandparent/grandchild relationship and the reasons that the grandparents feels that an order from the court is needed. The court will hold a hearing on the petition, and the grandparents will need to explain to the court their involvement in their grandchild's life and detail what has occurred in the family that has prevented the grandparents from spending time with their grandchild.
When deciding whether grandparents are entitled to a grandparent visitation order, a court's primary consideration is whether such an order is in the grandchild's best interests. The court can take many factors into account when making this determination, but will specifically want to know the extent to which the grandparents have had or have attempted to have meaningful contact with the grandchild. Additionally, the court may interview the grandchild to determine the child's perception of the situation.
Another issue that grandparents can face is whether they might be entitled to visitation with their grandchild if the child is adopted. This is a fact-specific question, but generally speaking, if a grandparent has already obtained a visitation order, it will continue in full force if the child is adopted by a stepparent or a biological relative of the child. This can be particularly reassuring for a grandparent when their child (the parent of the grandchild) has passed away and the other parent remarries. Grandparents who do not have a visitation order, but are still concerned with this scenario, are best served by exploring their options as soon as they begin to suspect that their grandchild might be the subject of an adoption, even if they do not know for certain that an adoption will occur.
The grandparent/grandchild relationship is so special that Indiana's legislature has recognized that it is often in a child's best interests for that relationship to be protected. Not only is it a relationship that is beneficial to children, but it is also a great source of joy for the grandparent. It is unfortunate when family conflict rises to a level that interferes with grandparents and their grandchildren. But, if it does happen, grandparents should be aware that there are options to be pursued.
If you are a grandparent concerned about not being allowed to spend time with your grandchildren, the first step is to consult an attorney who is knowledgeable in how you may assert your rights. Several of the attorneys at Allen Wellman McNew Harvey, LLP, regularly practice in this area of the law and would welcome the opportunity to discuss your options with you.
( Philip C. Sheward is a litigation attorney in the firm's family law group. If you have questions about grandparent visitation, you can find his contact information by clicking on his name at the top of this page.)