Putative Grandfather Lacked Standing to Commence Paternity Matter

Family Law Case Review

Case: In re the Paternity of: S.A.M. (Child), M.M. v. M.H., S.B.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: A putative grandfather, whose son – the putative father – was deceased, lacked standing as the child’s “next friend” to commence a paternity matter.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Child was born to Mother in 2007. Father executed a paternity affidavit and is listed as Child’s father on the birth certificate. Father continued to have a relationship with Child, and he shares custody of Child with Mother.

In 2011, a third party, B.H., passed away. And some point, it came to be believed by the parties that B.H. was Child’s biological father.

In 2013, B.H.’s father (“Grandfather”) filed a petition to establish paternity of Child. He sought custody or, in the alternative, grandparent visitation. The trial court referred the matter to mediation, which resulted in an agreement, the key provisions of which were: (1) B.H. was the biological father of Child; (2) Father and Mother would share joint legal custody of Child; and (3) Grandfather would have grandparent visitation.  The trial court approved the mediated agreement.

Implementation of the agreement became contentious, resulting in Grandfather seeking to have it enforced, and Father seeking to have it set aside as void due to Grandfather’s lack of standing. After a hearing, the trial court concluded Grandfather had standing, declined to set aside the mediated entry, and ordered the parties to follow it. Father appealed.

Reviewing the paternity statute, the Court of Appeals noted that the only avenue for Grandfather to have standing would be as Child’s “next friend,” a term that is not statutorily defined. Reviewing the applicable case law, it is significant that Child already has Mother and Father involved in Child’s life. The Court further concluded that the Grandparent Visitation Act, without more, did not confer standing upon Grandfather; the Court concluded that, had the legislature wished to confer standing automatically upon a putative grandparent, the statute determining who can initiate a paternity matter could have been amended to add grandparents, but it was not. Further, because the lack of standing cannot be cured, the order referring the parties to mediation, and the resulting mediation agreement, are all void by extension.

The trial court’s order was reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Paternity of: S.A.M. (Child), M.M. v. M.H., S.B.

 

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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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