Grandparents Rights Bill Discussed
Special Report - June 6, 2011
On Friday, a special House subcommittee considered HB 239-Grandparents Visitation Rights, a bill that seeks to change North Carolina law to significantly expand the legal rights of grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchildren. Jere Royall, counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council, testified against the bill, which is similar to several bills that have failed in previous years due to concerns about unconstitutional interference with the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.
Historically, North Carolina law has clearly given parental rights precedence over those of grandparents, holding that grandparents do not have legal standing to sue for visitation in cases where the child is living with the natural parents in an intact family, and where the custody of the child is not in dispute. Both the State and U.S. Supreme Courts have upheld the inherent rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, particularly in relation to grandparent visitation disputes. Even so, current law does already make provisions for biological grandparents to pursue legal action when seeking visitation rights with a grandchild, under the following guidelines:
- If the parents are divorcing and the custody of a child is at issue in an ongoing proceeding; or
- If the custody of a child has been determined, the grandparents may petition the court to amend the visitation with a motion showing evidence of changed circumstances. The court may, in its discretion, amend the visitation as it deems appropriate; or
- If the child is adopted by a stepparent or relative and a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child.
HB 239 proposes to change that long-standing precedent, by allowing courts to “determine grandparent visitation rights on a case-by-case basis,” based on the “best interest of the child.” The change would significantly expand the legal standing of grandparents, allowing them to bring legal action and sue for visitation rights, even when the child is living in an intact family with both parents.
Similar bills, which have been proposed and rejected for over a decade, spark emotional debate, which was reflected in the testimony made before the committee. Members of the subcommittee heard only opposition during the time of public comment, hearing from representatives from the North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC), the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Christian Action League (CAL), as well as from a North Carolina mother, who voiced her opposition by detailing her family’s own difficult situation with visitation rights.
In his testimony before the subcommittee, Royall, remarked that “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 should not create standing for the third-party to seek a judicial determination as to the reasonableness of the decision. The highest courts of both the State of North Carolina and the United States have consistently recognized as fundamental the right of parents to raise their children.”
Although a vote on HB 239 was expected during Friday’s meeting, members agreed to delay any action, opting instead to hold the bill for further consideration at an additional meeting. With the crossover deadline of June 9 quickly approaching, the subcommittee will likely meet for further consideration early next week.
Grandparents Rights Introduced - March 21, 2011
Parental Rights: The Guardians of Freedom - Summer, 2011
The Legislative Session after Crossover - FNC, July/August 2009
Bill Challenges Parents' Rights - April 8, 2009
"Parental Rights: Why They Matter and How They Are Being Ignored," - NCFPC Findings, 2003
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