Of course grandparents and their grandchildren have a special bond: they have a common enemy. This week’s case is about Debbie, a grandmother who was denied visitation with her grandchild by her daughter and her daughter’s husband.
Debbie enjoyed a loving and healthy relationship with her grandson in that she babysat the Child, visited with him at his home, played with him, fed him, read with him and sang with him. Debbie had also been invited to and attended the Child’s school events for grandparents. While both Parents admit that Debbie visited with the Child and helped them with his rearing, they candidly admit their aversion for how she treated them in front of the Child. They describe Debbie as rude, hostile, critical, abusive, angry and confrontational toward them, prompting them to create a series of rules to curtail her behavior during her visits with the Child.
The Father had a few conversations with Debbie via email about observing civilities with them, and met with her to discuss concerns about her behavior around the Child. Debbie made attempts to appease the Parent’s anxieties and wishes by participating in a therapy session with Mother, meeting with Father and exchanging emails, and she attempted to be polite with them for a few visits. Despite repeated efforts by the Parents to curtail Debbie’s relationship with her grandson and the various rules imposed by them, Debbie persevered until the parents barred her from seeing their Child unless she complied with their conditions. To resume visitation, the Parents wanted Debbie to participate in therapy to address her uncivil and angry behavior and her alleged emotional problems.
Debbie made the following attempts to see the Child: she made frequent calls and text messages to Mother; sent emails to both Parents; sent letters and cards to Mother and the Child for birthdays and Chanukah; reached out to family members and friends to speak with the Parents on her behalf; sought the intervention of a Rabbi by summoning the Parents to the Bet Din (Rabbinical Court); attended the Child’s skating event even though she was not invited; attempted to obtain information about the Child’s school and camp events; and attempted to engage and speak to the Child during family events. After making repeated attempts outside the legal realm to resume visitation with her grandchild, Debbie reluctantly sought the Family Court’s intervention.
In New York, grandparents have a right to seek assistance of the court to obtain visitation with their grandchildren. That right is included in both the Domestic Relations Law and the Family Court Act. But it is not an absolute or automatic right of visitation. The statute provides a procedural mechanism for grandparents to acquire standing to seek visitation with a minor grandchild. When grandparents seek visitation the court must undertake a two-part inquiry. First, the court must find standing based on death or equitable circumstances. What does the grandparent bring to the table with respect to the raising of the grandchild? Once the grandparent has established the right to be heard, then the court must determine if visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild.
Here, the court found that Debbie did indeed have standing to be heard and that it was in the best interests of the child to require visitation.
Here is the case: