New Laws Supporting Grandparents’ Roles

We wish all grandparents—those who are caring for a child and those who just enjoy their normal grandparenting activities with their grandchild—a very happy new year.

There is nothing as precious as holding a treasured grandchild in your arms. Unfortunately, there are thousands of grandparents who are denied relationships with their grandchildren, for a myriad of reasons. Moreover, these situations can be even sadder for the children who are deprived of the presence and love of their grandparents. Recent state court decisions regarding grandparent visitation rights may be foreshadowing a change:

Pennsylvania

On August 22, 2006, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that grandparents no longer have to prove that their grandchildren would be harmed by not having visits with them. The court rejected an appeal by the child’s father, who argued that his constitutional right to make parenting decisions was violated when a county judge gave partial custody to the maternal grandmother, whose daughter had died of cancer.

“We refuse to close our minds to the possibility that in some instances a court may overturn even the decision of a fit parent to exclude a grand- parent from a grandchild’s life, especially where the grandparent’s child is deceased and the grandparent relationship is long-standing and significant to the grandchild,” wrote Justice Max Baer in a four-judge opinion. A fifth justice filed a separate, concurring opinion, and one judge voiced his dissent.

Utah

On August 25, 2006, the Utah Supreme Court upheld a statute that allowed grandparents visitation with their 10-year-old granddaughter after the mother (their daughter) died suddenly. The father claimed that the existing law violated his right to make decisions for his child, but that claim was rejected by the court.

Colorado

On June 26, 2006, Colorado’s high court ruled that the paternal grandparents of a boy who lost both his parents by age 5 and was adopted by a maternal aunt and uncle had the right to petition for visitation even though they could not prove that denying visitation would harm the child. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling that required a grandparent to prove that lack of grandparent visitation “poses actual or threatened emotional harm to the child.”

Other news

Readers may remember Susan Hoffman from California, who told her story in a previous issue of this magazine. Susan had been denied visitation with her grandson Jacob when he was adopted by his stepfather. The story has a happy ending, because Susan now has regular visitation with her grandson.

Also, she started her own organization; Grandparent Child Connect (www.grandparentchildconnect.org), and worked to introduce a bill, signed into law in August 2006, that allows a grandparent to petition for visitation even if the child has been adopted by a stepparent. Some states have such a law—California did not. So we salute Susan for her diligence and a job well done!

We are happy to feature an article this issue by Judge Nancy Salyers, who believes that, whenever possible, children who are removed from their parents should be with grandparents and other relatives as opposed to the foster care system (which does need some mending). We are grateful when a judge truly looks at the best interests of the child.

We always tell the grandparents who call our toll-free line to never give up in their quest to visit with their grandchild because, as we all know, life can change in a second, and 2007 may be the year. We certainly hope so.

Brigitte Castellano is executive director of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights. To submit profiles for her consideration, write to her at bcastellano@grandparentsforchildren.org. To learn more about the NCGCR, call 866-624-9900 or go to www. grandparentsforchildren.org.

Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue.

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