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Court Rebuffs Grandparents’ Request for Visitation Rights
Filed: August 27, 2007
Home School Legal Defense Association successfully defended a member family’s right to raise their children free from unwanted visitation by the children's grandparents.
Mr. and Mrs. Braxton (named changed to protect privacy) have five children, whom they homeschool. When the older children were young, Mr. and Mrs. Braxton lived near Mrs. Braxton’s parents. The relationship between the two families became tense, because the grandparents disagreed with some of the religious and child-rearing decisions that the Braxtons had made and many times sought to undermine the parents’ authority. After several attempts to reconcile but still protect the boundaries that they had set for their children, Mr. and Mrs. Braxton reluctantly cut off contact with the grandparents in 2002 and moved away.
Several times in the next few years, police had to be called to escort Mrs. Braxton’s parents off the premises. The grandparents filed an action for visitation in Missouri state court, but their petition was denied.
Mr. and Mrs. Braxton eventually moved to Maine. In September of 2007, the grandparents filed yet another lawsuit trying to force Mr. and Mrs. Braxton to allow them unsupervised visitation of the children every month. The Braxtons called HSLDA for assistance.
HSLDA attorney Darren Jones immediately drafted a motion to dismiss the petition. Jones pointed out to the court that under Maine law, grandparents had to prove that they had acted in a parental capacity to the children in order to obtain visitation. The Maine Supreme Court has held that grandparents cannot seek visitation with a grandchild based merely on a normal “extended family” relationship. The grandparents never alleged a parental capacity in their petition; in fact they could not, because they had never acted in such a way.
On October 17, 2007, the district court agreed with the parents’ position, stating that the grandparents had failed to demonstrate any “urgent reason” in support of their petition and ruling that the grandparents did not have a sufficient existing relationship as required by Maine law to even establish their standing to file a petition. The grandparents’ case was dismissed with prejudice—that is, they will not be allowed to amend their complaint and re-file it alleging more facts.
However, despite this, the case was not over. In addition to filing a motion to reconsider with the district court—which was promptly denied—the grandparents appealed the district court’s decision to the Maine Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the state. The Supreme Court reviewed the various aspects of the case, asked for briefs from both sides, and finally, after several months, affirmed the district court’s decision.
“This is an important ruling protecting the rights of parents to make childrearing decisions,” said Jim Mason, senior counsel for HSLDA.