Protecting The Bond Between Grandparents & Grandchildren

March 3, 2010

Grandparents and grandchildren can be very important to each other but, sadly, there are times when circumstances beyond their control come between them. That is why I am co-sponsoring legislation to make changes to our state law regarding visitation rights.

Connecticut’s existing visitation law covers all interested persons who would like visitation rights, not just grandparents. Among other provisions, state law requires courts to base decisions regarding visitation rights on what is in the child’s best interests, and to consider the child’s wishes if he or she is old enough and capable of forming an intelligent opinion.

The idea that grandparents ought to have legal visitation rights is not new. Grandparents’ rights, however, cannot and should not trump the right of fit parents to make decisions they believe to be in their children’s best interest. Not surprisingly, decisions issued by both the United States and Connecticut Supreme Courts uphold the right of fit parents to raise their children as they think best, including deciding who should and should not have visitation rights. As a result, Connecticut judges must consider certain factors in deciding petitions for visitation rights in order to avoid violating what is referred to as “constitutionally mandated safeguards against unwarranted intrusions into a parent’s authority.” For example, courts will only consider petitions for visitation rights that include specific good-faith allegations of a parent-child like relationship and specific good-faith allegations that denial of visitation will significantly harm the child.

I believe that reasonable and responsible people can agree that our laws must support the legal authority of competent and caring parents to make decisions for, and about, their children’s welfare. But sometimes it is in children’s best interest for the courts to preserve other relationships as well. I believe that proposed legislation under consideration by the General Assembly’s Select Committee on Children would help make it easier for the courts to do just that under certain limited circumstances when the relationship in questions is between grandparents and grandchildren.

Under An Act Concerning Visitation By Grandparents, House Bill 5313, judges would grant visitation to grandparents if it can be clearly shown that the parent has been absent for a significant period of time; that the grandparent’s relationship with the child has been parental in nature for a substantial period of time; that the child will suffer real and substantial harm or neglect if visitation is not granted; and that visitation is in the best interest of the child and the state.
As I noted in my testimony before the Select Committee on Children, when a marriage breaks up, or parents go their separate ways, the children are the ones who suffer most – but they are not the only ones who suffer. Often, grandparents are an important part of a child’s life and serve as the emotional touchstone of a family. They can be caregivers, confidants, playmates, and role models to their grandchildren. The goal of this proposed legislation is to protect those relationships when doing so is the best interest of the child. Sometimes in our society, it seems like children have no one “there” for them – no one to look out for them, to care for them, to mentor them, to love them. In these cases, preventing grandparents from being “there” for their grandchildren is simply wrong.

I want to know what you think about this proposed legislation. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected].

Update: A version of this bill, now titled An Act Concerning Visitation to Grandchildren, was approved by the Select Committee on Children and is now pending further legislative action by the Judiciary Committee.