Grandparents' Rights in Indiana

Grandparents rights in Indiana
Most grandparents in Indiana and elsewhere cherish time spent with grandchildren. Photo © Ridleywright | RooM | Getty Images

The state of Indiana is not particularly hospitable to grandparents' rights. Its statute restricts who can sue for visitation, and courts have tended toward a strict interpretation of the law. 

Provisions of the Law

In the state of Indiana, grandparents may request visitation with grandchildren in the case of a deceased parent, a marriage terminated in Indiana or a child born out of wedlock. Marriages terminated outside of Indiana must meet a different set of standards. In the case of a child born out of wedlock, paternity must have been established in order for paternal grandparents to file a petition. As in many other states, grandparents may not seek visitation with children living in intact families.

As in all states, grandparents must show that visitation is in the child's best interests. In addition, grandparents must demonstrate "meaningful contact" with the grandchild or attempts to establish "meaningful contact." As part of that determination, the child may be interviewed in chambers. At such an interview, the court may allow counsel to be present and to make a record of the interview. If such a record is made, it can be used in the appeals process.

Adoption cuts off the legal rights of the grandparents unless the adoption is by a stepparent or a biological relative. 

The further provisions of the law deal with how and where a petition must be filed.

Relevant Court Cases

Grandparents' rights in Indiana have also been impacted by case law. Most observers feel that decisions handed down in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Troxel v. Granville have taken the teeth out of the Indiana statute.

Indiana courts may award visitation when none is offered, but hesitate to rule on the amount and quality of visitation that should be offered. If a grandparent is being allowed contact, no matter how short or infrequent, Indiana courts are reluctant to intercede.

Indiana courts also like to draw clear distinctions between parents' rights and grandparents' rights. In several cases, lower courts awarded liberal visitation time to grandparents only to have the decision overturned on appeal. The appeals courts have consistently found that, no matter what roles they have played in their grandchildren's lives, grandparents should not be given visitation in the amounts specified by Parenting Time Guidelines. In the 2003 case of Spaulding v. Williams, the court upheld visitation time that had been awarded by a lower court but denied grandparents the travel time and communication privileges that had also been awarded because those provisions had been borrowed from the Parenting Guidelines.

The Question of Standing

When grandparents in Indiana lose their visitation cases, it is often due to questions of standing -- whether a grandparent has the right to sue for visitation.​

Great-grandparents and step-grandparents have been denied standing to sue. In the 2002 case of Hammons v. Jenkins-Griffith, the court ruled that great-grandparents could not win visitation because great-grandparents are not specifically mentioned in the statute. The court expressed sympathy for the great-grandparents, who had provided care for their great-grandchild, but stated that it was restricted to the "plain language" of the statute. (Legislation has been introduced to extend grandparents' rights to great-grandparents but has always been met with a letter-writing campaign spurred by those who oppose any broadening of grandparents' rights.) The court system made the same determination about lack of standing about step-grandparents, in the case of Maser v. Hicks.

In addition, grandparents have no right to visitation if the parent who is their child has parental rights terminated. This is a common ruling when a child is adopted, but Indiana courts have taken a stricter stance. In the case called In the Matter of G.R., a child was taken into the child welfare system, and the mother's rights were terminated. The maternal grandmother filed a petition for visitation that same day, but her case was denied because her suit was filed after the mother lost her parental rights. 

A grandparent whose child is in prison does not have any special standing. In a 2013 case, In re Guardianship of A.J.A. and L.M.A., a grandmother whose son had killed his wife was denied visitation by the new guardians of the children. Although she had violated a no-contact order by allowing her incarcerated child to communicate with his children, the court's decision was based on her lack of standing, since her son was neither deceased nor divorced.

More about Indiana case law can be read in this publication of the Children's Law Center of Indiana.

See Indiana Code Chapter 5