Having a grandchild is a joyful and enriching experience. Many grandparents imagine the meaningful bonds they will form with their grandchildren over the years as they spend quality time with and devote their attention to the newest little ones to join the family. Sometimes reality turns out to be less than simple, and grandparents feel that they are not being given access to their grandchildren by their own child or their child’s co-parent. Because Indiana has a “Grandparent Visitation” statute, some grandparents consider taking legal action to get the time with their grandchildren that they desire – but when is legal action possible and what are the downsides?
Indiana’s Grandparent Visitation statute allows a grandparent to seek court-ordered access to a grandchild in certain, specific situations. In order to have the legal ability to ask the court for help, a grandparent needs to approach the court because his or her child (who is the parent of the grandchild) is deceased, the parents of the grandchild have divorced, or the grandchild was born outside marriage. The paternal grandparents of a child born outside marriage can only approach the court for assistance if the grandchild’s father has legally established paternity. In all these scenarios, the grandparent seeking visitation with a grandchild must be able to show that court-ordered visitation with a grandchild is in the grandchild’s best interests. The court will consider whether the grandparent has had or has attempted to have meaningful contact with the grandchild previously. It is unlikely that a grandparent would seek or receive court-ordered visitation unless that grandparent was being denied access to the child by one or both parents. The court will likely want to understand the reasons behind a parent’s decision to deny access to a grandparent, as parents are the ultimate decision-makers about their children.
A grandparent granted visitation can expect access but should not expect to receive the scope of time with a child that a parent would receive. Occasional in-person visits with or without an overnight are possible as well as information about a child’s activities to facilitate a grandparent attending. While that sounds positive to a grandparent who is being denied access because of a dispute with a grandchild, grandparents should be careful before filing legal action to force visitation. If a dispute with a grandchild’s parent is causing the lack of grandchild access, that dispute is almost certainly made worse by expensive legal action and court battles. Working on healing the rift may have better, long-term outcomes than legal action. In addition, a grandparent should carefully consider whether reduced access is happening naturally as a result of a child entering adolescence, which is a natural time for children to focus more on their peers than their parents or grandparents. A grandchild who fails to take calls and does not text back may just be busy elsewhere or may be resisting contact out of a desire to “be older” and focus on friends. Forcing contact may be detrimental to the grandparent/grandchild relationship, as well as cause strain for the entire family.
If you believe you are entitled to ask for grandparent visitation or have received a petition for grandparent visitation, contact Wanzer Edwards to determine your next steps.