Court of Appeals Reverses Man’s Visitation with Ex-Girlfriend’s Daughter

Family Law Case Review

Case: Amy L. Brown v. Adrian Lunsford
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD:  The trial court abused its discretion when it issued a visitation order between Child and Mother’s former boyfriend.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Child was born to Mother in 2007. The natural father was never part of Child’s life.

When Child was 16 months old, Mother began cohabitating with Boyfriend. The two never married, but Mother had a child with Boyfriend. Several years later, Mother and Boyfriend separated.

In 2011, when Child was four years old, the State initiated a Title IV-D paternity matter with respect to the younger child that Mother and Boyfriend had together. That paternity matter had nothing to do with Child. However, those proceedings resulted in a child support and parenting time order with respect to the younger child that Mother and Boyfriend had together.

In 2015, Boyfriend filed a petition to modify in the paternity case, which included a request for visitation with Child. After a hearing, the trial court granted the request, giving Boyfriend visitation of one weekend per month with Child. Mother appealed.

Much of Mother’s appeal involved discussion of Mother’s waiver of various possible procedural errors by not raising them timely at the trial court level, such as that Child was never a proper party to the second child’s paternity matter. As such, the Court of Appeals resolved the case on its substantive merits.

The Court summarized Indiana law on third party visitation. The opinion emphasized that, in light of Indiana’s recognition of same-sex marriage, coupled with its grandparent visitation statute – each of which provide an independent opportunity for parenting time or visitation – the circumstances in which third party visitation should be granted are quite rare these days. The Court also noted the Troxel constitutional implications that weigh heavily in favor of a fit parent to determine with whom a child should spend time.

Concluding that the trial court failed to give proper deference to the constitutional right of a fit Mother to make visitation decisions, and a lack of evidence that Mother’s denial of visitation to Boyfriend was not in Child’s best interests, the trial court abused its discretion.

The third party visitation order for Boyfriend was reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Amy L. Brown v. Adrian Lunsford

 

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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

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