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May 11, 2009

Senate Bill 6013: Allows Court to Order Grandparent Visitation

Author:
Senators Carrell, Marr

Summary:
In 2009 a total of six bills were introduced that would permit grandparents to request court-ordered visitation against the wishes of fit parents. Senate Bill 6013 was one of them. While there were three distinct bills, each with a companion bill, all of the bills would have allowed a grandparent to petition the court to order visitation even when both parents are married.

House Bill 1607 and companion Senate Bill 5477 would have only required a grandparent to demonstrate that he had a significant relationship with the child, that the parent substantially interfered with that relationship, and the child would likely suffer harm if contact with the grandparent was not awarded. The court would only have had to consider the fit parents’ reasons for denying visitation and determine whether they were reasonable and in the best interest of the child once the grandparent presented their case for visitation rights.

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, bills like these only require the court to give “deference” to the decisions of fit parents, while examining whether their decision was reasonable and in the best interest of the child.

Status:

2/13/2009(Senate) Referred to the Human Services and Corrections

This bill failed in committee.

HSLDA's Position:
HSLDA opposed to S.B. 6013.

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, these bills would give grandparents the right to sue parents for visitation. If these bills become law, a grandparent 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 these bills, 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 with 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

E-lert—2/17/2009—Washington: Multiple Bills Allow Court to Order Grandparent Visitation.

Bill Text    (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Bill History