The Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding a question of custody between a grandparent and biological parent. In the case In Re the Matter of the Paternity of K.I., by grandmother and next friend, J.I., v. J.H., No. 13S05-0805-JV-213, the critical issue centered on the standard a trial court should apply in a ruling on a petition to modify custody where a child is in the custody of a third party. The case also examined the presumption in favor of the natural parent in a modification proceeding.
Custody of the child, K.I. had been granted to the child’s grandmother, J.I., in whose care the child had been more for than 18 months. During that time, the child’s father, J.H. exercised parenting time. Subsequently, J.H.’s petition to modify custody was granted and the grandmother was awarded visitation consistent with the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. J.I. appealed the ruling, asserting that the court abused its discretion in awarding custody to J.H. Father cross-appealed the visitation granted to J.I.
The Court of Appeals reversed the custody award and remanded the case for determination on the parental presumption issue and to determine if modification was in the child’s best interest. The appellate court also indicated that if custody was awarded to father J.H. on remand, the trial court had to determine under which application grandmother should have visitation.
Indiana’s Supreme Court found that a natural parent seeking to modify custody has a minimal burden to show it is in the best interest of the child. If a natural parent meets the minimal burden, then it is up to the third party (in this case grandmother) to prove that the best interests of the child are to remain in the custody of the third party. J.I. failed to meet this burden of proof, and the Supreme Court affirmed modification of custody to father. The high court also reversed grandmother’s visitation, stating that it should have been determined according to the Grandparent Visitation Act, not the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.