Guardianship Matters Must be Heard in County Where Matter is Already on File

Case: In Re The Paternity of B.J.N. by Next Friend, E.M. v. K.N. and On Consolidated Appeal, In Re the Guardianship of B.J.N., E.M. v. P.C.
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: When a guardianship matter is already properly on file in one county, a petition filed in another county concerning the custody and parenting time of the subject child is properly dismissible and should be heard, instead, by the court already entertaining the guardianship matter.

HELD: Indiana’s statute that permits a court to restrict parenting time based upon a risk to the child’s physical health or emotional development does not require specific findings by the court concerning those risks to the child.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Child was born, in Illinois, to Mother in 2009. Child was subsequently made a ward of the State of Illinois. Father had been incarcerated but, upon his release in 2010, Father began visiting Child. In 2011, upon Father’s motion, paternity was established in Kankakee County, Illinois.

In early 2013, Mother brought Child to Decatur County, Indiana, where Child was to live with Guardian, who was a friend of Father. Father initiated this move, as Father had since moved to Hendricks County, Indiana, and wanted Child to be closer to him. Guardian subsequently filed, in Decatur County, and with Mother’s and Father’s consent, a petition to be appointed Child’s guardian. That petition was granted.

Over six months later, Father filed, in Hendricks County, a petition to register the Illinois paternity order, and a motion to vacate the Decatur County guardianship order, alleging a lack of jurisdiction. After a hearing, the Decatur Court issued an order restricting Father’s parenting time and requiring that it be supervised. Father then filed, in the Hendricks Court, a petition to modify custody and parenting time, which Guardian moved to dismiss. The Decatur Court denied Father’s motion to dismiss, and the Hendricks Court granted the Guardian’s motion to dismiss as well as issued a fee award in Guardian’s favor. Father appealed both orders, which were consolidated into a single appeal.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the Decatur Court had proper jurisdiction. The Court suggested that, at one point, Father might have had a UCCJA argument that the Decatur Court should not be hearing the matter – and that the matter should be resolved in Kankakee County, Illinois — but that Father waived that argument when he consented to the guardianship in the Decatur Court.

In terms of the Hendricks Court matter, the Court agreed that Father’s petition to modify was properly dismissed. “Although the actions took two different forms, their subject matter was the same. Because the subject of child custody and parenting time was properly before the Decatur Court in the guardianship action, the Hendricks Court was precluded from making a custody or parenting time determination in the subsequently-filed paternity action.”

Notably, the order from the Decatur Court that restricted Father’s parenting time and required that it be supervised contained no specific findings of fact. Though neither party had requested findings, the applicable statute concerning parenting time restrictions provides: “A parent not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable parenting time rights unless the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time by the noncustodial parent might endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.” The Court of Appeals determined the statute does not require specific findings from the trial court in the absence of either party requesting findings generally. Since the trial court’s parenting time restrictions were generally supported by evidence (e.g., Father’s history of drug and alcohol addiction, prior incidents of questionable care of the child, etc.), the order was affirmed.

The only order from below that was reversed was an attorney fee award issued by the Hendricks Court in favor of Guardian, and against Father, in the course of dismissing Father’s petition to modify. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court failed to hear any evidence of the parties’ financial resources and, in the absence of same, the attorney fee order was improper.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re The Paternity of B.J.N. by Next Friend, E.M. v. K.N. and On Consolidated Appeal, In Re the Guardianship of B.J.N., E.M. v. P.C.

_________________________________________________________________________________

James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Leave a Reply