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Grandparent Rights in Divorce – Here’s the Latest
The Michigan Supreme Court made a recent landmark statement, sending a case involving grandparents’ rights back to the trial court for further legal proceedings.
The issue at hand: whether the grandparents, whose deceased son’s parental rights were involuntarily terminated, have a right to seek grandparenting time with their grandchildren.
The answer: you bet they do.
Let’s take a step back and look at it from a legal angle. Then I’ll get into the nitty-gritty on this particular case.
The question of whether grandparents have the right to time with their grandchildren was answered affirmatively by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2003, followed by legislative action in 2005 when the Grandparenting Time Bill was signed into law by the governor.
This law is intended to allow grandparents and grandchildren access to each other in appropriate circumstances while still protecting parents’ rights to decide what is best for their children.
So, in order for a grandparent to file a case with the court for grandparenting time, they have to have standing – that means they have to have a legal right to do so granted under state law. (The statute can be found at MCL 722.27b)
One situation where grandparents do have standing is where the child’s parent, who is a child of the grandparents, is deceased.
In this particular Michigan court case (Porter v Hill), the trial court ruled that the grandparents did not have standing because their son’s parental rights were involuntarily terminated prior to his death.
The father may have been a bad enough guy to have his parental rights terminated – but does that mean his parents shouldn’t have the right to see their grandchildren?
It’s a tough question and not one with easy answers. For one, the behaviors of the father may or may not reflect his own parents’ character.
Secondly, the children’s mother sought to keep the kids away from a destructive father – but would knowing his side of the family harm them?
While the mother might think so, sometimes we let emotions drive our decisions. The grandparents in the Porter case kept fighting to see their grandchildren, all the way up to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ultimately decided that under the Child Custody Act, the grandparents do have standing because “a biological parent is encompassed by the term ‘natural parent,’” as defined in the statute, “regardless of whether the biological parent’s parental rights have been terminated.”
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court to decide if grandparenting time will be appropriate; and if it is, then what that grandparenting time will be under the circumstances.
There is no question that grandparents have a huge impact on grandchildren. Children need to know where they come from; connections to relatives from all angles enhance a child’s sense of self and family.
From my experience, there are always two sides to every story. When we’re not personally involved in it, it’s hard to know what the real truth is.
It’s never a bad thing to have a relationship to grandparents unless they themselves have questionable character. Grandparents offer children many positive experiences and a deep understanding of who they are and where they come from.
In this specific case, even though the children’s father died under negative circumstances, and had he lived, he would have been a bad influence, he’s still their father. Children should know where they come from otherwise they spend their entire lives wondering who they are.
In the future, without access to their kin, the children will question that side of their family tree. This way, if appropriate as determined by the court, the children may have the opportunity to know loving, nurturing relatives, and answers, as well.