Indiana parents and grandparents, when at odds with one another, may turn to the law governing grandparents’ right to visitation of the grandchildren. However, the law may be more complicated than meets the eye. Proving that one is the actual grandparent of the child is not always enough to ensure the grandparent will prevail on his or her petition for visitation.
In the case of Jocham v. Sutliff, the grandmother sought visitation with the child of her deceased daughter. However, she did not petition for such visitation until after the child had been adopted by her stepmother. The Court held that the grandmother had no standing to petition for the visitation after the adoption had taken place, although she would have had standing had she filed the petition before the child was adopted.
The Grandparents Visitation Act provides generally that a grandparent under certain conditions may have the right to petition for visitation. Not all grandparents denied visitation by a parent has the right to file in court. Such circumstances allowing for the petition include where the child’s biological parents were not married, where at least one parent is deceased, or where the child’s parents divorce. Once the petition is permitted, the Court considers whether granting the visitation is in the best interests of the child. Part of that analysis includes consideration of whether the grandparent and child already had a meaningful relationship or if the grandparent had been trying to have one, but was thwarted by the parent.
Being a grandparent who wants visitation or increased visitation time is not, in and of itself, enough to gain the right to request same in court, much less win the petition on the merits. In addition to proving that the parents’ relationship falls within a particular category, the grandparent must now also be sure to file the petition prior to a stepparent adoption, in order to prevent the adoption from acting as bar to the petition.