Family Law Case Review: Grandparents Visitation Order Reversed

Case: In re: The Grandparent Visitation of C.S.N.: Brooke Neuhoff v. Scott A. Ubelhor and Angela S. Ubelhor
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

[Full disclosure: I participated in the representation of the Appellant in this appeal.]

HELD: Trial court erred when it issued a visitation order in favor of Grandparents.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother became pregnant in high school. Weeks before her delivery, Father committed suicide. In 2010, paternity was established by way of an agreed entry between Mother and the paternal Grandparents. Child was born on June 17, 2010.

Mother eventually returned to high school, and graduated with a 3.9/4.0 GPA. She later enrolled at the University of Southern Indiana to study accounting, while working part time in the accounting department of a large local company.

Following Father’s death and Child’s birth, Mother maintained a close relationship with Grandparents. Mother included Grandparents at Child’s birth, baptism, birthday parties, holidays, and other family events. Mother also took Child to Grandparents’ home nearly every Sunday. While Mother would sometimes leave Child with Grandparents for several hours, Mother did not allow any overnights.

In February 2013, Grandparents filed a petition for grandparent visitation, in part because they were seeking overnights and in part because of a stated concern that Mother might reduce or eliminate their access to Child. Initially, Mother continued her Sunday visits to Grandparents’ house after the petition was filed.

Within weeks, Mother began to notice behavior issues with Child after he spent time with Grandparents (e.g., potty training accidents, crying, etc.). After one visit, Mother noticed unexplained bruises on Child’s back. Mother elected to discontinue Child’s visits with Grandparents.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court issued a grandparent visitation order. The order provided for a six-week phase-in that would reach a final visitation schedule of every other Sunday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.. No overnights were provided for in the order. Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed Troxel and similar Indiana cases dealing with the constitutional aspect of grandparent visitation orders, as well as the resulting four “McCune factors” that must be considered by a trial court prior to ordering grandparent visitation. Applying the McCune factors to the record, the Court of Appeals concluded that Mother’s decision to restrict visitation was not unreasonable, and that the trial court’s finding to the contrary was unsupported. The Court of Appeals also concluded that the trial court gave no weight to the McCune factor that Mother had been providing for some visitation and, thus, the grandparent visitation order was not necessary for Grandparents to have any time with Child; there is an important difference between a parent who limits grandparents’ opportunities to visit with a child, and those who deny it entirely.

The trial court’s grandparent visitation order was reversed.

Chief Judge Vaidik dissented with a separate opinion. She believed that the circumstances surrounding Mother’s decision to stop the visits with Grandparents were such that it was within the trial court’s discretion to conclude that Mother had acted unreasonably because the evidence did not establish a clear nexus between Child’s behavioral issues and bruises with any wrongdoing by the Grandparents.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re: The Grandparent Visitation of C.S.N.: Brooke Neuhoff v. Scott A. Ubelhor and Angela S. Ubelhor

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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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