Attorneys for Appellants Robert E. Shive Paul R. Sadler
Emswiller, Williams, Noland & Clarke, LLC Indianapolis,
Attorney for Appellees Charles P. Rice Murphy Rice, LLP South
from the Hamilton Superior Court The Honorable Steven R.
Nation, Judge Trial Court Cause Nos.29D01-1703-MI-2800,
Robert Walker and Patricia Walker (the Walkers) appeal the
trial court's orders granting summary judgment in favor
of Megan Knight and Ashley Carpenter (the Mothers) on the
Walkers' petitions for grandparent visitation, arguing
that: (1) the Mothers should be equitably estopped from
arguing that the Walkers lack standing; and (2) the Walkers
preserved their rights to grandparent visitation by timely
filing the petitions. Finding that the Walkers preserved
their right to a hearing, we reverse and remand for further
The Walkers had one son, Braden Walker, who is now deceased.
Braden had a child, C.W., with Knight. Braden had another
child, J.W., with Carpenter. Both C.W. and J.W. were born out
of wedlock, but Braden established legal paternity for each
child during his lifetime. The Mothers have each gotten
married, and their respective husbands each filed a petition
for step-parent adoption after Braden's
On March 22, 2017, the Walkers filed petitions for
grandparent visitation for both C.W. and J.W. under two
separate causes. Under the Grandparents Visitation Act (GVA),
grandparents may seek continuing visitation after the
child's parent is deceased. When the Walkers filed their
petitions for visitation, the petitions for step-parent
adoption of C.W. and J.W. were pending in the trial court.
The Walkers and the Mothers stipulated in a written agreement
that the trial court would address the issue of grandparent
visitation only after the adoptions were finalized. The
Mothers were also given an extension of time after the
adoptions were finalized to respond to the Walkers'
visitation requests. The trial court finalized J.W.'s
adoption in July 2017 and C.W.'s adoption in August 2017.
On January 26, 2018, Carpenter filed a motion for summary
judgment, arguing that because the adoption of J.W. had been
finalized, the Walkers no longer had standing to seek
grandparent visitation. Carpenter also filed a motion to
strike the portions of the Walkers' petitions for
grandparent visitation and affidavits in which the Walkers
refer to themselves as the "grandparents" of J.W.
Appellants' App. Vol. II p. 45. Similarly, on April 23,
2018, Knight filed a motion for summary judgment, making the
same argument as to C.W. On July 5, 2018, the trial court
granted Knight's motion for summary judgment, and on July
7, 2018, the trial court granted Carpenter's motions for
summary judgment and to strike.
In both orders, the trial court took judicial notice of the
adoption decrees proffered by the Mothers, verifying that the
adoptions of C.W. and J.W. had been finalized by their
respective step-fathers. Furthermore, the trial court
concluded that once C.W. and J.W.'s adoptions had been
finalized, the Walkers no longer fit the definition of
"grandparent." Braden's death and the
step-fathers' acts of adopting C.W. and J.W. severed the
legal, familial relationship between the Walkers and the two
The trial court concluded that the Walkers did not do enough
by simply filing their petitions before the adoptions were
finalized. Specifically regarding J.W.'s adoption, the
trial court stated, in pertinent part:
The Walkers have never had any "Visitation rights"
that could have "survive[d]" the adoption under
Section 9 of the GVA. Because "no right to visitation
had already been given by a court," the Walkers
"have no visitation rights for section 31-17-5-9 to
protect. . . ."
For this reason alone, the Walkers' Petition for
Grandparent Visitation fails as a matter of law.
[T]he GVA was amended in part to read that a petition for
grandparent visitation "must be filed prior to the date
a decree of adoption is entered." Here, the petition for
grandparent visitation was filed in March 2017, before the
adoption decree was entered in July 2017. However, although a
pre-adoption petition is a necessary condition for
grandparent visitation, it is not the only
condition. As discussed above, after a step-parent adoption,
a court may enforce such visitation only if the petitioner
(1) has "Visitation rights" that "survive the
adoption of the child" under Indiana Code §
31-17-5-9 and (2) is still a "grandparent" as
defined by Indiana Code § 31-9-2-77, and neither of
these Indiana Code provisions was changed by the 2017