A loving, nurturing extended family is an ideal situation that any parent would love to have for their child. An expanded net of support for a child that will provide love, attention, and guidance is surely an arrangement that would benefit any young person. Problems can and often do arise, however, when relationships with extended family turns sour. If a parent makes a decision to cut off contact between children and extended relatives, especially grandparents, sometimes those relatives can seek judicial intervention. It is important to note that the United States Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue. In Troxel v. Granville, the Supreme Court ruled that in that case, grandparent visitation infringed on the Constitutional rights of the mother. According to Troxel and other authority, the right of a parent to make decisions about who should be included in a child’s life is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
That being said, New Jersey law does provide some avenues for grandparent visitation. First, a grandparent must prove that visitation between the grandparent and the child is necessary to avoid doing harm to the child. Relevant evidence to this inquiry will include such factors as whether the grandparent has a strong bond with the child, whether the grandparent was the sole caretaker for the child in the recent past, and whether the child resided with the grandparent for a significant period of time. Merely asserting that a grandparent has a good relationship with a child is not enough; a grandparent must prove that the child will suffer actual, specific harm if deprived of the grandparent’s relationship. If the grandparent can overcome that hurdle, then the parent must make a proposed visitation schedule. If the grandparent disagrees with the schedule, then the court will make a determination as to what schedule is in the child’s best interest, based on the factors in New Jersey law.
There are chances for other parties to file a third-party custody suit, besides grandparents. Under NJSA 9:2-4, “any person” may file a suit for custody if the parents are “grossly immoral or unfit” or otherwise endanger the welfare of the child. As in grandparent visitation cases, there is a heavy presumption in favor of the parent, as the parent’s rights are protected under the U.S. Constitution. Taking custody from a parent and granting it to a non-parent is a difficult burden, and the courts do not take it lightly.
If you are facing a suit for grandparent visitation or if you are a grandparent who has been cut off from your grandchild, contact us today at (732) 479-4711 We have experience in third party visitation and custody cases and can review your case with you.