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April 25, 2006

Senate Bill 6683: Grandparent Visitation Bill

Author:
Senators Fairley, Pridemore, Thibaudeau, Rasmussen.

Summary:
Thank you for your calls on these bills. You were successful in stopping or delaying these harmful bills from clearing the legislative chambers. Since the cut-off date has passed for bills to be approved in the houses where they were introduced they are dead.

The only real possibility for this bill to be resurrected was for it to be attached to legislation that was still active, but since the legislature closed Sine Die on March 17, this is no longer a possibility.

There were two bills in the Washington legislature that would permit grandparents to petition the court for visitation rights against the wishes of parents. House Bill 2711 and Senate Bill 6683 would have permitted a grandparent to ask the court to order visitation even when the family is intact and the parents believe it to be in the best interest of their children to keep them from seeing their grandparents.

These bills were strongly opposed as an attack on parental rights. Instead of presuming that fit parents make decisions in the best interest of their children, these bills only require the court to give "some deference" to the decisions of fit parents.

Status:

1/18/2006(Senate) First reading, referred to Judiciary.
1/31/2006(Senate) Public hearing in committee.
2/2/2006(Senate) Executive session in committee.
2/3/2006(Senate) Judiciary - Majority; do pass. Minority; without recommendation. Passed to Rules Committee for second reading.
2/3/2006(Senate) Minority; Without Recommendation.
2/3/2006(Senate) Passed to Rules Committee for Second Reading.
2/24/2006Senate Rules "X" File.

HSLDA's Position:
Opposed.

Action Requested:
None at this time.

Background:
Over the years, HSLDA has represented member families in conflict with grandparents who did not like homeschooling. These grandparents would try to stop the homeschooling through various means, including turning the family over to child welfare services. Thankfully, most grandparents we come in contact with at HSLDA support homeschooling and in some situations even participate in the teaching.

However, H.B. 2711 and S.B. 6683 would give grandparents the right to sue parents for visitation. If this bill becomes law, they could petition the court for visitation rights "regardless of whether there is a pending dissolution, legal separation, or modification of a parenting plan proceeding."

Of course, if a grandparent brings a suit under this act, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child and order family mediation and a psychological evaluation of the child. Under these bills the court only needs to give "some deference" to the decisions of fit parents.

On the surface these bills appear to protect parents' rights. However, a grandparent is only required to demonstrate that he or she had a "significant relationship" with the child that was allowed to be formed and established by the parent, that the parent substantially interfered with the grandparent's relationship, and the child would likely suffer harm or substantial risk of harm if contact between the grandparent is not awarded. Once a grandparent demonstrates this, the burden shifts to the parent to "prove why their decision to deny visitation is reasonable and in the best interest of the child." This places the court in the position of deciding whether the parent was justified in limiting contact with the grandparents.

 Other Resources

Bill Text   (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Bill History