In Re the Matter of: Paternity of W.M.T. (November 16, 2021)
HELD: The trial court did not err when it awarded custody of Child to a third party, Paternal Grandmother, instead of to Mother.
FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mother gave birth to Child in 2008. Mother and Father were never married. As a result of a paternity matter initiated by Father, Father received primary physical custody of Child, subject to Mother’s parenting time. As a practical matter, Child was thereafter raised by Father’s mother (“Paternal Grandmother”).
Father died in 2019. After Father’s death, litigation ensued between Mother and Paternal Grandmother concerning the custody of Child. At the conclusion of which, the trial court awarded sole legal and primary physical custody of Child to Paternal Grandmother, subject to Mother’s parenting time per the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. Mother appealed. The Court of Appeals noted that when a party other than the child’s natural parent seeks custody, “a trial court must be satisfied by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of the child require such a placement” (citing In re: Guardianship of B.H.). Further, the burden of proof always rests with the third party.
The trial court’s order made detailed findings about the various factors set forth in Ind. Code 31-14-13-2 regarding the best interest of a child in a custody determination, including that Child had well-established roots living with Paternal Grandmother, Child’s expressed desire to remain living with Paternal Grandmother, concerns about Mother’s mental health, and Mother’s admission to previously striking her child. Based upon this analysis, the trial court concluded that Paternal Grandmother had demonstrated, by clear and convincing evidence, that it was in Child’s best interests to be in her custody. The Court of Appeals rejected Mother’s argument that the trial court had evaluated its decision using a lower burden of proof than required by Indiana law in third party custody cases.
The trial court’s order modifying custody of Child in favor of Paternal Grandmother was affirmed. __________________________________
James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas 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. Cross Glazier Reed Burroughs, PC, is the premiere boutique family law firm in the state of Indiana. Visit the firm’s website at https://www.cgblawfirm.com.