Bill Challenges Parents' Rights
Special Report - April 8, 2009
On April 7th, the North Carolina House Judiciary 3 Committee began considering a bill to establish a study on the expansion of grandparent visitation rights that could violate the fundamental right of parents to raise their children as they see fit. The bill would authorize a Study Committee to consider current state law regarding custody, visitation, and grandparents’ visitation rights, as well as legislation adopted by other states. Also, they would consider the circumstances under which “grandparents should be granted visitation rights…whether the visitation, if granted, should be supervised or unsupervised…and any other issues the Committee deems relevant to the study.”
HB 590Study Grandparents’ Visitation Rights is unnecessary since a Legislative Study on Grandparents’ Visitation Rights was conducted in 1996, and legislation to expand the visitation rights of grandparents has been rejected in the NC General Assembly since the mid 1990s. North Carolina law clearly establishes that grandparents do not have standing to sue for visitation, when custody is not in dispute and the child is living with the natural parents in an intact family. The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that parents have a ‘”paramount right … to custody, care and nurture of their children,” and that right includes the right to determine with whom their children shall associate.
Under current North Carolina law, biological grandparents may institute an action for visitation of a grandchild under certain conditions: 1) if the parents are divorcing and the custody of a child is at issue in an ongoing proceeding; or 2) if the custody of a child has been determined, the grandparents may petition the court to amend the visitation with a motion and showing of changed circumstances. The court may, in its discretion, amend the visitation as it deems appropriate; or 3) if the child is adopted by a stepparent or relative and a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child.
The House Judiciary 3 committee is scheduled to consider the bill again on April 9th.
“It is unfortunate when family situations arise that cause parents to deny grandparents the ability to visit their grandchildren, but a parental decision to do so does not and should not create standing for a judicial intervention of such decisions,” said Jere Royall, counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “This issue has been debated, studied, and litigated many times. Both the United States Supreme Court and the North Carolina Supreme Court have declared constitutional protections for the right of parents to the “custody, care, and control” of their children. Changing the current law to broaden the circumstances in which grandparents may petition the court for visitation rights would violate this fundamental right.”
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