Grandparent Visitation Rights
By Snyder & Sarno on May 08, 2015
We have previously blogged about a grandparent’s right to custody of a child that he or she cares for. Grandparents may also seek visitation with their grandchildren. In New Jersey, grandparents have this right under the Grandparent Visitation Statute, codified at N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1. In the recent case of M.K. and L.K. v. A.K., the court addressed grandparents’ rights to visitation with their grandchildren.
A.K. was married to M.K. and L.K.’s son, Max, with whom she had two children. After Max unexpectedly died, the grandparents sought visitation with their grandchildren. As their relationship with A.K. became strained, however, contact with their grandchildren lessened. Eventually, A.K. cut off all contact between the grandparents and their grandchildren.
The trial court interviewed the children, who both expressed negative feelings towards their grandparents. Thus, the trial court appointed a psychological expert, Dr. Dasher, to interview the children. The expert concluded that the children were coached by A.K. to have negative feelings towards their grandparents. A.K. hired an expert who refuted Dr. Dasher’s opinions and found that the grandparents not only had a negative impact on their grandchildren children, but their grandchildren children had no desire to visit them. Ultimately, the trial court agreed with Dr. Dasher and issued an order for creation of a visitation schedule between the grandparents and their grandchildren.
On appeal, the Appellate Division noted that under the Grandparent Visitation Statute, grandparents have the ability to seek visitation with grandchildren if they can show that it is in the best interests of the child. In addition, the court noted U.S. Supreme Court and New Jersey Supreme Court precedent in this area of the law. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000) struck down a grandparent visitation law. The New Jersey Supreme Court interpreted Troxel in Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84 (2003) to say that a parent’s decision regarding visitation with grandparents will be presumed to be in the best interests of the children and should be given “special weight.” Thus, grandparents should only be awarded visitation when they can show “that the children will be protected ‘from serious physical or psychological harm.’” See Moriarty, 177 N.J. at 113. In particular, a parent’s death is sufficient to satisfy this required showing.
Ultimately, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s ruling. Their father’s death coupled with regular visits with their grandparents in the past showed that the grandchildren would suffer harm if they did not remain in contact with their grandparents and their father’s family.
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