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Grandparents Are Not Necessarily Entitled to Visitation

By Snyder & Sarno on August 14, 2015

While grandparents may play a big role in the lives of their grandchildren, a parent may object to the grandparents’ involvement.  Unless the kids would suffer a real harm without their grandparents, a competent parent has the right to keep grandparents away from their grandchildren.  Parents typically have the authority to decide what is in the children’s best interests. 

In Loser v. Witt, the court was tasked with deciding whether or not to grant the paternal grandparents a visitation schedule with their grandkids.  An unmarried couple, Melissa and Eric, lived together with Melissa’s son from a previous relationship.  Though not biologically related, Eric acted as the psychological father to the son.  In 2005, the couple had a baby together.  About two years later, they broke up, and custody litigation ensued.  Ultimately, they settled the custody arrangement, but Melissa’s relationship with Eric’s parents took a hit.

When Eric realized in 2013 that his parents were attempting to undermine Melissa’s relationship with the children, he forbade his parents from having contact with the kids anymore.  Eric discovered that his father was harassing Melissa, and Melissa stated that Eric’s father was verbally abusive toward her.  Despite their differences, both Melissa and Eric agreed that Eric’s parents should no longer be in the children’s lives.

Unhappy with this agreement, Eric’s parents filed a complaint in Family Court seeking visitation with their grandkids.  They said that they had a very close relationship with their grandchildren, and that they saw them a few times per week.  Hoping to prove their point, the grandparents asked the court for a hearing and for a psychological evaluation of the children.  While they admitted that they were never the full-time caregivers for the kids, Eric’s parents said that cutting off their relationship would be harmful to the kids. 

The trial judge dismissed the grandparents’ complaint after oral argument.  Though he acknowledged the bond between the grandchildren and their grandparents, he noted that the grandparents did not prove that there would be great harm to the children if they were not given visitation.  Because both Melissa and Eric were fit parents, the judge decided to respect their mutual decision to keep the grandparents away. 

In their appeal to the New Jersey Appellate Division, the grandparents argued that the trial court should have let them testify and get an expert to prove that the children would be harmed by their absence.  Further, they asserted that the court should have applied the factors in New Jersey’s grandparent visitation statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1.  The appellate court did not agree.  It noted that in order to even get to the step in the process where the grandparent visitation factors are applied, the grandparents needed to prove that visitation is necessary to avoid significant harm to the children. 

Since the grandparents did not prove that the kids would suffer significant harm, there was no need to apply the grandparent visitation factors.  General allegations of harm are insufficient for showing actual harm.  Melissa and Eric were fit parents who exercised reasonable judgment in deciding to keep their kids away from Eric’s parents.  As a result, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision, and the grandparents did not have any visitation rights. 

If you have an issue with child custody or visitation, contact the skilled attorneys at Snyder & Sarno, LLC.  The lawyers at Snyder & Sarno are experienced in handling cases involving children.  Call us today at (973) 274-5200. 

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