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Yet Another Change

Grandparents Ride Seesaw Over Visitation Rights

Back-and-forth court rulings may be an incentive to work out issues.

That case involved the grandparents of a boy who lived with his mother, the couple’s daughter, but not his father. After the grandson complained to his grandparents that his mother's boyfriend had beaten him, a police investigation found evidence of corporal punishment but concluded that legal intervention was unwarranted. The grandparents discussed the beatings with their daughter, who then terminated any visitation by them. The grandparents claim that in addition to their protection of their grandson and concern for his care, their visitation was supported by their grandson's father, who, though absent from the family, supported the boy financially.

AARP filed a friend-of-the-court, or amicus, brief in the case and emphasized studies showing the benefits of grandparents’ involvement. Studies demonstrate that grandparents contribute significantly to the healthy development of their grandchildren. In cases where homes are broken by divorce, incarceration, mental and physical illness, AIDS, crime, or the death of one or both parents, Jones said, the presence of a constant and reliable family member, grandparent, or other relative, is particularly important to children.

AARP argued that the “best interest of the child” standard in the state’s grandparents’ visitation statute was the appropriate basis for which to award visitation, but the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state’s lower courts must adopt a test of whether upholding the parent’s wishes could cause “harm” to the child.

Seeking a Better Alternative

The back-and-forth court rulings should give grandparents added incentive to try to work out issues or bad feelings with their grandchildren’s parents, in order to see the grandkids.

“We urge people to resolve out of court,” Jones said. Going to court should be a last-ditch option. “It’s costly and takes years,” she added, and can rip families further apart. If your attempts to resolve issues fail, consider using a trained mediator.

“We urge mediation first,” Goyer said. A low-cost option, mediation helps people come to an agreement. Typically, each side gives a little, but each gains, too. To find a mediator in your area, check out the National Association for Community Mediation.

“We can help parents and grandparents work it out,” said Mary Ellen Bowen, executive director of Mid-South Mediation Services in Hohenwald, Tenn.

If you have tried that avenue and find that going to court is the only option left, then contact a family lawyer to find out whether courts have upheld strong grandparents’ visitation rights in the state where the child lives.

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