Senator Lonnie Randolph has introduced a bill to amend the grandparent visitation statutes by adding great-grandparents to those persons entitled to seek visitation rights under those sections. IC 31-9-2-48.3 is amended to include great-grandparents in the definition. The paternity statute at IC 31-14-14-3 is amended to include great-grandparents. The relocation statute at IC 31-17-2-2.1, IC 31-17-2-2.2, and IC 31-17-2-3 are amended to include great-grandparents. IC 31-17-5-1 is amended to include great-grandparents and also adds another qualification upon which visitation can be sought. That additional qualification provides this alternative qualification for seeking a visitation order;
the grandparent or great-grandparent has had meaningful contact with the child but, as a result of an estrangement between the parent of the child and the grandparent or great-grandparent, the parent of the child terminated the child's visits with the grandparent or great-grandparent.
IC 31-17-5-2 is amended to add the factors that must be considered in determining the best interest of the child. These are a slightly modified version of the factors considered in granting custody and parenting time in paternity [31-14 et seq] and dissolution [31-17 et seq] actions. In determining the best interests of the child, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including the following:
(1) The age and sex of the child.
(2) The wishes of the child's parent, parents, grandparent, grandparents, great-grandparent, or great-grandparents.
(3) The wishes of the child, with more consideration given to the child's wishes if the child is at least fourteen (14) years of age.
(4) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with:
(A) the child's parent or parents; and
(B) the child's grandparent, grandparents, great-grandparent, or great-grandparents.
(5) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
(6) Evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by the child's grandparent, grandparents, great-grandparent, or great-grandparents.
(7) Evidence that the child has been cared for by the child's grandparent, grandparents, great-grandparent, or great-grandparents.
IC 31-17-5-3 are IC 31-17-5-10 are amended to include great-grandparents while IC 31-17-5-4 is amended to make technical changes to bring it in conformity with the rest of the code. An emergency is declared for the act which, if signed into law, will make it effective immediately.
I wrote about this legislation when it was brought before the general assembly in 2013 where it produced robust debate during committee hearings. The advocates for this bill have argued that it is necessary to protect children from abusive parents who attempt to estrange them from the community and beneficial familial contacts. Particularly noted are parents who had voluntarily or through CPS actions temporarily given up their parenting rights. Some grandparents and great-grandparents who were the temporary custodians contend that the parents still present a danger to the well-being of the child and visitation needs to be maintained.
Opponents of this bill have argued that the particular cases cited can be addressed through existing statutory framework such as actions by Child Protective Services. Additionally, it has been argued that this bill would allow grandparents and great-grandparents to invade the domain of the parents and violate their right to determine the child’s upbringing. The US Supreme Court in Troxel v Granville articulated the right of parents against intrusion by grandparents. The basis for protecting the autonomy of the parents is that grandparents and great-grandparents have already played their parenting role and if they did so sufficiently then the parents should be well suited to make responsible parenting decisions without interference. An additional point of opposition is that there is a presumed due process inequity in that grandparents and great-grandparents are likely to be more financially secure than the parents who may be struggling to maintain separate households and support the children or pay child support. An amendment to prior legislation was added to provide for reimbursement of a parent’s attorney fees in some cases.
While there may be some children who could benefit from this legislation I feel that, on balance, it would be more disruptive to parents and then children and should therefore be opposed based upon the additional qualification added to IC 31-17-5-1.
Click here to see other 2015 Indiana Child Custody and Child Support Payment bills.
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