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California Appellate Court Affirms Extensive Grandparent Visitation

In the case Stuard v. Stuard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the two parties fighting over custody of a young girl are not husband and wife. The parties are actually father and grandfather, where the grandfather is seeking visitation with their granddaughter, Riley.

The facts of this case show that the grandparents didn’t just play the typical grandparent role that most of us imagine in a traditional American family. They lived with the parents and were very involved in raising their granddaughter. They were so involved that they were essentially additional primary caregivers for the child. The whole dispute about visitation arose when the father began taking ADHD medication, which changed his personality completely. So much so, that the grandparents kicked him out of the house. This then lead to the father telling the grandparents they would never see their granddaughter again.

It’s understandable that the trial court in this case would then allow for some reasonable visitation between the grandparents and their granddaughter, considering the very close relationship they had with her. But the trial court went even further than basic visitation, which the Court of Appeals affirmed. The trial court granted the grandparents an overnight visit during the week at the grandparents’ house, one overnight weekend per month, a seven-day vacation over the summer, and an overnight visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This case set an extreme precedent for grandparent visitation. Usually when the courts are considering grandparent visitation, it’s because the grandparents are very involved in the child’s life, and it would be detrimental to the child to no longer have that relationship. The child wouldn’t understand why she can’t talk to her grandparents, or would think that she did something wrong. The child also wouldn’t benefit from the additional nurturing relationship from the grandparents. So, the court will allow for a few hours here and there per week or per month for the grandparents to see their grandchild.

The reason why the court usually sticks to around a few hours here and there is because parents have the fundamental right to the care and custody of their children. This includes deciding where the children will be, when and with whom. This right is strongly upheld as long as the parents are not hurting or harming the children. If the court finds harm to a child, then it may consider putting the child in temporary or permanent custody elsewhere. Ordering grandparents to be able come in and take a child when they want would be a violation of this fundamental parental right, absent any findings of abuse or reason for why the child should be removed from the parents’ care and custody.

Here, the court acknowledged that there was never any finding that the parents were unfit. Nonetheless, the court went even further than the typical few hours a week or month, and ordered full overnight visits and vacations. Essentially, the court is forcing the parents to share their parental rights with the grandparents. Critics will argue that the court went way too far here, even considering the very close relationship with the grandparents.

If you have a question about the role grandparents or other close relatives play in your child’s life, give Cage & Miles, LLP a call for a free 30-minute consultation.