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States ponder grandparents' rights when it comes to time with grandkids

Posted May 14

A dead grandmother won visitation rights in Wisconsin, signatures were gathered in Washington and Alabama is trying again. In each case, the question was whether grandparents and grandchildren have a right to continue their relationship. (Deseret Photo)

A dead grandmother won visitation rights in Wisconsin, signatures are being gathered for a ballot initiative in Washington and Alabama is taking another run at crafting a law after an earlier version was found unconstitutional.

In each case, the question is grandparent rights and whether grandparents and grandchildren should be able to continue their relationship, even when a parent is opposed or other circumstances could interfere, if it's in the best interest of the children.

The ballot initiative in Washington, I-1431, "allows for a non-parent relative to petition a court for child visitation rights under certain circumstances," according to KPQ news radio. If supporters gather the required signatures, voters will decide the issue in November.

The case in Wisconsin bounced back and forth and the grandmother in the case, Carol Meister of Ohio, died shortly before it was resolved in her favor. Her grandchildren, with the assistance of a guardian ad-litem, continued the case though it would not impact them, according to the Wisconsin State Bar report.

The state's Supreme Court decided the statute that said in order to petition for visitation rights a person had to prove a parent-child type relationship did not apply to grandparents, great-grandparents and stepparents.

"It makes sense to require proof of relationship by people without a direct family tie to a child’s parent, the majority observed. But '[r]equiring the same proof from a grandparent is unnatural, and it would clearly make a successful petition for visitation much more difficult for some grandparents than for others,'" the bar article said, quoting Justice David Prosser.

In its summary of the ruling, the Journal Sentinel reported, "The decision reversed decisions by a Jefferson County judge and the Court of Appeals, and agreed with the children in the case that the extra requirement applies only to those seeking visitation who are not a grandparent, great grandparent or step parent."

Wrote the newspaper's Bruce Vielmetti, "The ruling also found that when the visitation is in the best interest of the children, it does not infringe on the constitutional rights of a parent to exercise the control, care and custody of their children."

"Prosser’s opinion of the court also explained that courts may grant visitation to nonparents if the court determines that doing so 'would be in the child’s best interest,'" the bar report said. The standard won't guarantee visitation to grandparents, but said the best interests of the child are to be weighed, as well."

The bill Alabama lawmakers are considering would require "grandparents petitioning for visitation of their grandchildren to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the grandparent has an existing relationship with the grandchild and visitation is in the best interest of the child," according to Alabama Media Group. "The bill includes the criteria and procedures for filing a petition with the court."

A previous law in Alabama aimed at preserving the grandparent-grandchild relationship was struck down as unconstitutional. The article said that under the new proposal, "grandparents can petition for visitation of their grandchildren if the children's parents have filed for divorce; or if the children were born out-of-wedlock, and if one or both of the parents' parental rights were terminated."

The Grandparents Rights Association of the United States keeps an updated list of state laws on grandparent rights.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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