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Do Grandparents Have the Legal Right to See Their Grandchildren?

The tale of a relentless fight to restore visitation rights.

Editor's Note: Hear Ye! Hear Ye! explores a real court case. Read about it below and decide how you would rule. Then read the actual verdict and let us know if you agree.

Andrea Koshko had little to be happy about when it came to relations with her parents. At 18 years old, she left their house in Middletown, N.J., unable to stand the fights, sometimes violent, between her mother and father, Maureen and John Haining. Andrea, a striking blonde with a broad smile, took off for Florida with her boyfriend, but ended up pregnant and abandoned. Forced by circumstances to move back into her parents’ home, she stayed for three years raising her little girl, Kaelyn.

The background

The Hainings were active, involved grandparents. They were disappointed when Andrea met Glen Koshko in 1997 and she and Kaelyn moved into his house in a nearby town. Even so, Maureen Haining stayed close to her granddaughter, making frequent visits. Within a year, however, Glen and Andrea eloped and soon moved to Baltimore County, Md., for Glen’s job. That summer Andrea gave birth to another baby daughter. Three years later the couple had a son.

Despite the distance, the Hainings traveled frequently to Maryland, and the Koshkos reciprocated by taking the children to New Jersey for visits. The Hainings found toll receipts and other documents that show 31 trips between May 2001 and October 2003. The Hainings also showed their devotion to their grandchildren with frequent calls, letters and cards. Then came the fight.

Glen’s mother had terminal cancer, and her health was quickly deteriorating. The Hainings believed that Glen was not showing enough concern for her, their open criticism of him growing increasingly strident. Maureen Haining was especially upset. She let both her daughter and Glen know she disapproved of her son-in-law taking a five-day trip to his college homecoming in South Carolina rather than visiting his mother in New Jersey.

The breaking point

On the telephone with Andrea after Glen’s trip, Maureen suggested that the Koshkos come to New Jersey and offered to watch the grandchildren while Andrea and Glen visited his mother. Andrea said they couldn’t come because Glen had plans for a friend’s birthday party that weekend. Maureen insisted, reminding Andrea that Glen’s mother didn’t have much longer to live. Andrea relayed to Glen what her mother was saying and he jumped on an extension line. After exchanging bitter words with Maureen, Glen vowed that the Hainings would not see their grandchildren again. When Maureen told her husband what had happened, John called Glen’s cellphone and threatened to assault him.

The Hainings tried over the next several months to patch things up and reconnect with the Koshkos and their grandchildren, but Glen and Andrea either gave them the cold shoulder or completely rejected their attempts, according to court documents. Finally, the Hainings’ attorney wrote to the Koshkos suggesting mediation. The Koshkos agreed to let the Hainings have one visit with the kids—with the possibility for more in the future—but the Hainings weren’t satisfied. They wanted assurance that they could have regular visits with their grandchildren.

To court

The Hainings brought their suit to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, citing Maryland’s Grandparent Visitation Statute to make their case. According to the statute, a court may award grandparents visitation rights when deemed in the children’s best interest. The Koshkos responded by arguing that the grandparent visitation law violated their fundamental right to parent and that the law should presume that their decisions were in the best interest of their children. To override their decision about the Hainings, the Koshkos argued, the court had to find that they were unfit parents or that there were exceptional circumstances requiring the grandparent visitation.

The Circuit Court ruled for the Hainings, setting up a rolling schedule of four-hour visits every 45 days and quarterly overnight visits. They also required the four adults to go to four joint professional counseling sessions to discuss issues surrounding the visitation and how to best bring the Hainings back into their grandchildren’s lives.

Glen and Andrea Koshko didn’t give up. They appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, but lost again. Finally, they appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Your turn! If you were an appellate court judge, how would you rule?

Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.

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