More than 60,000 grandparents in Indiana have custody of their grandchildren, according to a group that supports “grandfamilies.” With ongoing issues related to parents’ drug addiction, homelessness, unemployment, and other issues, those numbers aren’t expected to decrease any time soon. You may be facing a situation where custody or adoption of your grandchild is in the best interest of the child and you aren’t sure about grandparents’ rights in Indiana.
The laws surrounding custody and adoption are complex. While it may seem logical and even reasonable that if a parent can’t care for children, any willing grandparent should be able to do so, it just isn’t that easy. There is a presumption of parental rights that must be overcome to support grandparent (or any other third party) custody or adoption. Fortunately, the family law attorneys of Hessler Law PC are experienced in the area of grandparents’ rights in Indiana. We can help you understand your rights and work to achieve the best outcome for the children involved.
Understanding Grandparent Rights
Because of US Supreme Court legal precedent that elevates due process for parental rights, grandparent rights are limited somewhat in most states. But those rights do exist. What’s important is having legal counsel that understands the law and cares about their clients’ personal circumstances. That’s what our family lawyers at Hessler Law do best.
Under the Grandparent Visitation Act, you could be eligible for some limited grandparent visitation rights. You can seek visitation if the child’s parents are divorced in Indiana, a parent is deceased, or the child was born outside of wedlock. Paternal grandparents of an out of wedlock child can’t petition for visitation unless paternity has been established. State law does not allow a petition for grandparent visitation of “intact” families. In other words, if you aren’t getting along with one, or both, of the parents of your grandchild, and you can’t see your grandchild as a result, you have no legal recourse.
If you are eligible, visitation must be in the best interests of the child, as determined by the court. Factors that the court could consider include if the grandparent has had meaningful contact with the child or provided emotional and financial support and visitation wouldn’t infringe upon parental rights.
If you need more than visitation to ensure the proper care of your grandchild, a guardianship may be an option. Unlike adoption, guardianship doesn’t take away all the birth parent rights and responsibilities but does provide full custody. Because parental rights haven’t been permanently ended, a guardianship could be terminated if circumstances changed. As a legal guardian, a grandparent can access services for the child without having to be the parent.
Without a court order providing for guardianship, you have no legal rights to custody of your grandchild. That means even if you have been carrying and providing for the child for some time in a loving, stable home, a biological parent (or children’s services) can remove the child from you at any time.
When biological parents have abandoned a child or a custodial parent has died and the other parent isn’t an option for custody, adoption of a grandchild may be appropriate. With adoption, the parental rights of biological parents will be terminated. You become the legal parent of the child. Adoption may be an option in matters where the biological parents have abandoned the child for certain periods of time.
Grandparents may first become the “de facto custodian” of grandchildren if parents are unable to care for the children themselves. The court must determine by clear and convincing evidence that adoption and termination of parental rights are in the best interest of the children involved. Factors to be considered will include the wishes of the custodian, the care and bonding that has occurred, and if possible to discern, the parent’s intent when a child was placed with the grandparents.
We Can Help You Understand Grandparent Rights
When a family is in crisis, it can be hard to know where to turn. If you’re struggling with how to best care for your grandchildren, you need our experienced family law attorneys. We can help you understand your rights and work with you to make sure your grandchildren receive the care they need. Contact us today to discuss your options. Call (317) 886-8800 for a consultation with us at Hessler Law PC.