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April 26, 2007

Senate Bill 5071: Allows Court to Order Grandparent Visitation

Author:
Senators Darlene Fairley, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Paull Shin, and Marilyn Rasmussen

Summary:
Senate Bill 5071 would have permited a grandparent to ask the court to order visitation even when a family is intact and the parents believe it to be in the best interest of their children to limit their contact with their grandparents.

Instead of presuming that fit parents make decisions in the best interest of their children, this bill would have only required the court to give “deference” to the decisions of fit parents while examining whether their decision was reasonable. While there was a hearing scheduled for Senate Bill 5071 February 8th, this bill was strongly opposed as an attack on parental rights. The committee took no action and the deadline to hear bills from the origination house was Mach 14, 2007.

Some of you may remember that similar bills were introduced last year, but with your calls they were defeated. Thanks to your phone calls and support, this bill was defeated once again.

Status:

1/10/2007First reading, referred to Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections
2/28/2007Public hearing in the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections at 8 a.m.
3/14/2007Did not pass the Senate deadline for transmittal to House

HSLDA's Position:
Opposed.

Action Requested:
No further action is needed

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. 1108 and S.B. 5071 would give grandparents the right to sue parents for visitation. If this bill becomes law, they could petition the court for visitation rights when both parents are together and not only when 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 “deference” to the decisions of fit parents all the while deciding whether the parents’ decision to limit contact with the grandparents is “reasonable.”

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