Author Louisa May Alcott once said that “Every house needs a grandmother in it.” However, Alcott’s words date back to her novel Little Women, set back centuries ago. These days, not all parents feel the same way about grandparents. It’s the reason the court recently considered a case involving a grandparent’s right to visitation.
In some cases, grandparents find themselves as victims when mom and dad decide to divorce. Either parent might decide that they’d like to limit their children’s interaction with their own or former spouse’s mother and/or father.
Notably, New Jersey statutes devotes a section of the law to visitation rights for grandparents and siblings. According to NJSA 9:2-7.1, the burden of proof falls on the grandparent “to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the granting of visitation is in the best interests of the child.”
Meanwhile, the statutory language goes on to discuss the factors the court considers when a grandmother or grandfather attempts to assert visitation rights. These include:
- Relationship between the grandparents and child
- Nature of the relationship between the grandparents and the child’s parents or person who lives with the child
- Last time the grandparents had contact with the child
- The effect that the proposed visitation will have on the child’s relationship with his or her parents or the person with whom the child is residing
- If the parents are divorced or separated, the effect on the parents’ parenting time
- Evidence of the grandparents’ good faith intentions
- History of any abuse or neglect by the grandparents
- Proof that the grandmother or grandfather was once a full-time caretaker for the child
Divorce isn’t the only reason that grandparents can be left out of the picture. Married couples may decide they don’t want them around, as well.
Grandparent’s Right to Visitation Changed
The New Jersey Appellate Division decided S.R. v. S.N. and D.N. on September 24, 2019. The court opinion is unpublished, which means the ruling applies to the individual parties. Additionally, initials are used to protect the identity of everyone involved in the case.
According to the facts of the case, S.N. and D.N. are parents of a six-year-old girl, referred to as “Annie” in the legal opinion. When the matter was brought to the court, the couple was already married for sixteen years. Annie is their only child.
S.R. is the plaintiff in this case, and also Annie’s maternal grandmother. On March 28, 2018, S.R. filed paperwork on her own behalf, seeking the right to visit with her granddaughter. In support of her application, S.R. complained that her daughter wouldn’t even answer the phone or allow her to visit Annie.
Furthermore, S.R. wanted to ensure that Annie had the opportunity to bond with her cousin, another of S.R.’s grandchildren.
In the meantime, the grandmother’s paperwork documented a contentious relationship that existed before Annie’s birth. That said, S.R. wished to be part of her granddaughter’s life and did not believe the problems she had with her own daughter should matter.
The Parents Responded to Request for Visitation
Subsequently, S.N. and D.N. retained legal counsel to respond to S.R.’s court application for grandparents’ visitation. Accordingly, they both described their relationship with Annie’s grandmother as strained.
The parents said that S.R. only had a sporadic relationship with the child in the first three years of her life. In the two years following, S.N. and D.N. characterized the interaction as superficial.
According to the parents, the last time they spoke with S.R. was when the grandmother’s father died on November 19,2017. To make things worse, S.R. had an altercation with her son-in-law that almost rose to the level of her physically assaulting him.
The paperwork submitted on behalf of S.N. and D.N. went into even greater detail. Essentially, the parents found that S.R. was not “emotionally stable” and was “unsuitable for a relationship with their daughter.” Additionally, they did not feel it was in Annie’s best interest to be exposed to a number of different men.
Trial Court Hearing
When the parties appeared in court on June 28, 2018, S.R. represented herself. The parents were represented by legal counsel. Meanwhile, the Appellate Division remarked on what seemed to be a somewhat informal approach to the hearing. The judge did not require the parties to be sworn in. An uncle even addressed the court. All of this was done in a conversational manner.
Upon deciding the case, the judge referred to the case law which allowed the plaintiff the right to apply for an order for visitation. Notably, the court added that the statute did not provide a right to visitation.
Going forward, the judge also outlined the factors considered by the court in determining grandparents’ visitation as mentioned previously. Although the court felt the facts weighed in favor of the parents, the court decided to allow visitation for one day a week of every two weeks while in the company of the uncle and the grandmother.
Upon review, the Appellate Division disagreed with the lower court’s decision. In a previous ruling, the court decided “in order to overcome the presumption of parental autonomy in the raising of children, grandparents who bring visitation actions under N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1 must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of visitation will harm the child.” Not only did S.R. fail to prove this, there was also no evidence that the contacts were in the child’s best interests.
Are you a grandparent seeking visitation? Or, a parent concerned about your child visiting with a grandmother or a grandfather? The Law Offices of Sam Stoia can help you in either case. Contact us to schedule an appointment.