Big Grandparent Visitation Rights Update

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Grandparent Rights on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Grandparents play an increasingly large role in raising grandchildren. Yet grandparent visitation rights don’t really exist in Florida. Will the new law passed this June change things? Starting July 1st we will find out.

Grandparent child custody and timesharing rights do not exist in Florida. But as American parents deal with both economic recession and family upheaval, grandparents have stepped in to help.

According to a recent survey, grandparents were the main caregivers for more than 3 million children in 2011 – a 20% increase from 2000, the Pew Research Center found.

I wrote an article in the Florida Bar Journal about grandparent visitation rights, and the attempts by Florida law makers to serve this big part of our population.

Two current statutory grounds for awarding grandparent visitation have been ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. Confusingly, these two provisions remain in the statute.

The laws were unconstitutional because compelling visitation with a grandparent based solely on the best interest of the child, without the showing harm to the child violates parents’ privacy.

Privacy is a fundamental right, and any statute that infringes on that right is subject to the “compelling state interest” test – the highest standard of review.

Florida is taking a new stab at having some form of grandparent visitation rights. House Bill 149 passed the House and Senate, and amends laws related to grandparent visitation.

The bill creates a new limited grandparent visitation statute:

(1) It allows a grandparent of a minor child whose parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state to petition the court for visitation.

(2) If there are two parents, one of whom is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and the other has been convicted of a felony or certain violent crimes.

Grandparent must make a showing of parental unfitness or significant harm to the child, and also requires that grandparents try mediation and, if necessary, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the child.

Several factors are listed for the court to consider, including the previous relationship the grandparent had with the child, the findings of a guardian ad litem, the potential disruption to the family, the consistency of values between the grandparent and the parent, and the reasons visitation ended.

The bill limits the number of times a grandparent can file for visitation, absent a real, substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances.

The bill was approved by the Governor on June 11, 2015, and will become effective on July 1, 2015.