RI Legislators Consider Grandparents' Visitation Rights

RI Legislators Consider Grandparents' Visitation Rights

A commission created by the Rhode Island Senate this summer is reviewing family law in the state as it relates to grandparents’ visitation rights. Initially, members heard emotional testimony from grandparents unable to see their grandchildren because of those children’s parents. Also, some of the children, they say, have been emotionally or physically abused by those parents.

Currently, in Rhode Island, grandparents can file a petition in Family Court for visitation only under certain conditions, however. Specifically if:

  • The child (the parent) has died
  • The court has their child visitation rights
  • If their child didn’t assert visitation rights for his- or herself
  • When their child is getting a divorce
  • These petitions are typically settled via Family Court mediation

The commission comprised of state senators and those who work in departments and organizations that help advocate for children. Also, it formed after a state senator proposed legislation changing state law to help protect grandparents’ visitation rights.

As a result, advocates for the changes stress the role of grandparents on children’s mental, physical and emotional health. Furthermore, they suggest they can also help a child understand the history of his or her family, and that child’s place within it.

Grandparent Visitation an Issue Nationwide

A 2000 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court impacted the Grandparents’ rights throughout the country. According to the chief counsel for Rhode Island’s Family Court, however, this decision was “breathtakingly broad” in letting courts determine whether someone is a “fit parent.” The decision, which the attorney likewise says she believes is unconstitutional, presumes that parents who refuse to allow certain people — including grandparents — to associate with their children, are acting in their child’s best interests.

However, alcoholism, drug use, and mental health issues, and other factors can routinely effect a parents ability to care for their children.

The commission has been tasked with reporting its recommendations and findings to the senate by March of 2017. It is, however, unknown whether the courts or the legislature takes steps to alter the law and give Rhode Island grandparents greater rights.

Few Remedies for Grandparents

So, grandparents who have issues with their kids that prevent them from seeing their grandchildren generally have little legal recourse. However, there are extenuating circumstances like those noted above, or if the child’s parents aren’t fit to care for a child. If that’s the case, a Rhode Island family law attorney can help grandparents seek visitation or custody.

Source: Providence Journal, “R.I. board reviewing laws governing grandparents’ rights hears emotional testimony,” Alisha A. Pina, Sep. 28, 2016

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