As published in the Indianapolis Star, March 8, 2010:
Recently, I voted against a bill which would have greatly expanded the power of the courts over intact families.
Because the public doesn't often get to hear the floor debate on controversial bills, I wanted to explain to you my opposition.
Currently in Indiana, the biological father and mother are the only people with enforceable visitation rights. Grandparents do not have the right to petition for visitation with their grandchild except in cases of death, divorce or when the child is born out of wedlock.
Senate Bill (SB) 59 would have extended that right to families where the grandparents, and even great-grandparents, feel they have been cut off because of an estrangement with the child's parents-while the parents are still married.
Last week, we voted on it and the measure failed. The final total was 46 voting in support, and 53 against.
I was concerned about this bill from the very beginning. Back in January when the House version of this bill, House Bill 1055, was going through the committee process, I was the only vote against the measure. This bill is not the answer for families where abuse-child abuse, drug abuse or any other kind of abuse-is taking place. Such cases are for Child Protective Services and public safety to oversee.
Instead, it would have meant that two married parents who have decided not to continue contact with a grandparent would have had to face a long and costly litigation process if the grandparent decided to take them to court.
Court cases between family members most often cause psychological, emotional and familial scarring that is nearly impossible to heal. Families would probably be less likely to reconcile after such an ordeal.
The Indianapolis Bar Association testified in committee on Feb. 23 that it was opposed to SB59. In discussions in the House chamber, other representatives also opposed the measure, in part because it would have opened the floodgates for so many people (potentially four grandparents and eight great-grandparents) to bring litigation against one family.
At its core SB59 implied that intact families are no healthier than non-intact families, which is not what we find in the statistics. Children who grow up in a home where the biological mother and father are still married are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go on to higher education, less likely to be incarcerated, etc.
Of course, statistics like this can't possibly diminish the pain of loving grandparents who are cut off from their grandchildren because of an estrangement with the child's parents, especially when the grandparents have served as the child's guardian for any length of time.
There are grandparents who take ongoing care of grandchildren in the parent's absence. When the parents return to reclaim their children, the grandparents, who in the eyes of the child have taken on the role of a parental figure, are suddenly shut out. This causes suffering for all parties, especially the children.
This is why I offered amendments to SB59 which would have narrowed the scope of its reach, but still allowed grandparents in this situation to petition for visitation. Unfortunately, those were not accepted by the House.
This bill, as constructed, was too far-reaching and too broad. It was highly invasive and promoted prolonged litigation in family structures led by a married couple. The threshold for bringing legal action against an intact, married couple was just far too low.
Please feel to contact my office if you would like to discuss this issue with me further. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at (317) 232-9677.
State Rep. Cindy Noe
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