When parents deny grandparents any visitation with their grandchildren, grandparents may petition the family court for visitation rights if it is in the best interest of the grandchildren. Sometimes, however, the court may find that the parents have a good reason for denying grandparents visitation rights with the grandchildren.
In a recent case, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia ruled that grandparents’ visitation rights that had previously been established by agreement should be terminated because the parents’ and grandson’s relationship with them had become “toxic.”
The child’s parents had divorced, and shortly thereafter the father of the young boy died in a car accident. The boy’s mother agreed to allow her son to visit with her in-laws at least once a month and on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The boy’s mother remarried and her new husband successfully adopted the boy despite the vehement objections of the boy’s paternal grandparents.
Unfortunately, after the adoption, the relationship between the boy’s parents and his paternal grandparents continued to disintegrate. The grandparents falsely accused the boy’s adoptive father of physically abusing their grandson and coerced their grandson into lying to the police, saying that his father had beaten him with a belt. The father was charged with felony child abuse and was excluded from his home before the truth came out and the charges were dropped.
Because of the grandparents’ manipulation of the child into lying to the police, a child psychologist testified that the grandparents should be considered emotionally abusive to the child. His report clearly indicated that the grandparents’ rights to visitation should be terminated.
However, the family court apparently misinterpreted the report and, based on a guardian ad item’s recommendation, determined that the relationship was overall beneficial to the child and it would not be in the child’s best interest to terminate the grandparents’ visitation. On the parents’ first appeal, that ruling was affirmed.
On a second appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the lower courts and ruled that the grandparents’ visitation rights should be terminated. The court explained that when determining the best interest of a grandchild, it is important to assess the bond and prior relationship with the grandparents. However, the relationship must have an overall beneficial nature to the child.
In this case, the Court held, it was clear error for the lower courts to find that it was in the child’s best interest to continue to visit with his paternal grandparents because the child psychologist had clearly found that continuing the relationship between the grandparents and their grandson would be psychologically damaging to the child.
In this case, there is no doubt that the grandparents love their grandchild. However, their actions have led them to lose their valuable right to continue their relationship with him in the future.
Source: The Record, “Court: Grandparents’ false allegations of abuse grounds for losing visitation,” Lawrence Smith, April 22, 2011