Trial Court Abused Discretion Issuing Broad Order

Case: Charity Lindquist v. Cory Lindquist
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court abused its discretion when it issued an order broadly prohibiting Mother from allowing her children to spend one-on-one time with her Boyfriend, when Mother was not present, in the absence of evidence that Boyfriend abused or neglected the children, or that the relationship between Boyfriend and the children posed some harm or detriment to the children.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father were married, had triplets in 2002, and divorced in 2005. They shared joint legal custody of the children, with Mother having primary physical custody subject to Father’s parenting time, which would be as agreed but not less than the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. Near the time of the divorce, Mother and the children began living with Boyfriend. Mother and Boyfriend never married, but they all continued to live together for seven years. Mother then moved out of Boyfriend’s house, but her romantic relationship with Boyfriend continued. Boyfriend was uncommonly involved in the children’s lives: he took them to doctor’s appointments without Mother present, had them for overnights, attended their activities, and even took them on family trips that Mother did not attend.

In 2011, post-decree litigation between Mother and Father ensued, dealing with various disputed parenting time issues. Most of the issues were resolved in mediation, but remaining unresolved was Father’s claim that Mother’s perpetuation of the relationship between Boyfriend and the children was undermining Father’s relationship with the children. After a hearing, the trial court issued an order that provided, in relevant part: “[Mother] has allowed this relationship [between the children and Boyfriend] to interfere with children’s primary relationship with their father. [Mother] is prohibited from allowing the children to spend one on one time with [Boyfriend] any time with him unless she too is present (the court would envision brief periods like dinner and/or a move on the occasional basis).” Mother appealed.

On appeal, Mother, citing the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case, Troxel v. Granville, contended that the trial court’s order violated her constitutional right to raise her children because there was no showing that any harm resulted to the children. While the Court of Appeals noted the rights set forth in Troxel and elsewhere, it also noted that this case involved the competing rights of two parents, not one parent and a third party (e.g., a grandparent). In addition, this case also involved the interplay of Mother’s right to determine with whom the children spend time, versus Father’s so-called “right of first refusal” under the IPTG. Importantly, the Court noted that there had been no allegation of abuse or neglect directed at Boyfriend, and the trial court received expert testimony that the children continuing their relationship with Boyfriend would be in their best interests.

The Court ultimately concluded: “[S]o long as Father’s rights to additional parenting time under the Guidelines are followed and respected, we see no reason why [Boyfriend] should not be allowed to continue his relationship with the children unattended by Mother. In other words, because there has been no showing of some danger or detriment to the children, there is not a legitimate basis for restricting Mother’s fundamental right to control her children’s relationships with others.”

The trial court’s order was reversed as to the Boyfriend restriction, and remanded with instructions that the trial court craft an order permitting the children to maintain their relationship with Boyfriend so as to spend unsupervised time with him so long as that relationship does not interfere with or impede Father’s opportunity to exercise parenting time per the IPTG.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Charity Lindquist v. Cory Lindquist

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by the Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.

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