A constituent came to me with a tragic story about her son’s death, and the aftermath of not being able to visit her grandchildren. Her 24 year old son passed away in March of 2019. He left behind a son of his own, who is now three years old. The mother of the child decided to deny visitation to the paternal grandparents. For a family already grieving, this is a nightmare of a situation. As a parent, you never expect your child to precede you in death. As a grandparent who has already lost a child, you never imagine being told that you don’t have the right to see your grandchild.
When a parent dies, the law does not give the child’s grandparents automatic or guaranteed visitation rights. Grandparents have to go through major legal hurdles to show a court that not having contact with the child in the future would ultimately harm the child. In visitation cases, if the surviving parent objects, the person seeking visitation must prove “actual harm” to the child if visitation is denied.
This is why I’m sponsoring a bill that will help grandparents keep a relationship with a grandchild(ren) when their child dies. SB571 gives the judge a list of reasons he may consider when a grandparent petitions for visitation instead of the current heavy burden of proof a grandparent must present now to even be considered. This is limited to cases where a grandparent’s child is the parent of the child for whom visitation is sought, and that parent is deceased.
This bill passed out of committee easily last night. We heard compelling and empathetic testimony from attorneys who have represented grandparents in these same situations.