Grandparents are often some of the most influential extended family members during a minor’s childhood. In some cases, grandparent involvement in the lives of their grandchildren is limited by the parents. This is particularly true where the parents separate or divorce. Under some circumstances, grandparents may seek and a court may order grandparent visitation, so that they may spend time with their grandkids. A recent Massachusetts appellate case, Frazier v. Frazier, discusses this issue.
Massachusetts General Laws c. 119, § 39D is the so-called grandparent visitation statute. This law allows grandparents to petition for visitation with their grandchildren. Under this statute, grandparents “may be granted reasonable visitation rights to the minor child during his minority by the probate and family court department of the trial court upon a written finding that such visitation rights would be in the best interest of the said minor child.”
Blixt v. Blixt
Massachusetts case law also addresses the issue of grandparent visitation. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set forth the standard for grandparent visitation in the 2002 case of Blixt v. Blixt. Blixt v. Blixt, 437 Mass. 649 (2002). In this case, the court had the task of balancing the fundamental rights of parents with the “best interests of the child” standard. In essence, the grandparents must prove a decision by the judge to deny visitation is not in the best interests of the child. To prevail, the grandparents must allege and prove that the failure to grant visitation will cause the child significant harm by adversely affecting the child’s health, safety, or welfare. The high court also imposed a requirement for the grandparents to show that there is a significant preexisting relationship between the grandparent and the child.
Troxel v. Granville
The Blixt case followed the 2000 case of Troxel v. Granville. In Troxel, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Washington statute allowing any third party to petition state courts for child visitation rights over parental objections. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000). Here, the Court recognizes a fundamental right for parents to determine the care, custody and control of their children. The Troxel Court requires state courts to give “special weight” to a fit parent’s decision to deny non-parent visitation. This case established that parents have a right to deny visitation to grandparents. Parents may make that decision based on their right to raise their children as they see fit.
Frazier v. Frazier
In the Frazier case, the mother and father of three minor children were in the middle of a divorce. The mother was granted full custody of the children. Meanwhile, the court granted only three hours of visitation to the father due to his substance abuse disorder. As a result, the paternal grandparents filed a petition for visitation with the grandchildren. In accordance with Massachusetts precedent, they alleged that it was in the best interests of the grandchildren to have visitation with them.
Additionally, the grandparents in the case alleged that there was a significant relationship between them and their grandchildren. They explained that they enjoyed lunches, dinners, and visits with the grandchildren. They also alleged that the kids took classes and attended events at the grandparents’ yacht club and golf club. Furthermore, they said the children spent time visiting the grandparents for holidays at their Florida home. The mother, on the other hand, opposed visitation outside of the father’s weekly three hours of parenting time. As a result, she filed a motion to dismiss. At a non-evidentiary hearing, the Probate and Family Court granted the mother’s motion.
On appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court sided with the mother. According to the Appeals Court, the grandparents’ allegations regarding their relationship with the minor children were not enough to award visitation. Quoting another Massachusetts case, the court noted, “While apparently nurturing and enriching, the relationship is not ‘such as de facto parents or other relationships of close bonding, where significant harm may be readily inferred from and is inherent in the disruption of that relationship.’” Therefore, “Such a relationship is not enough to meet the showing of a “significant” preexisting relationship such that “significant harm to the children may be inferred from disruption alone.”
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