Grandparenting Rights and the Constitutional Interests of Parents
July 13, 2017
A recently published Michigan Court of Appeals decision affirms that parents have a constitutional interest in raising their children. Statutory grandparenting rights do not trump a parent’s constitutional rights.
Parents vs Grandparents
In some families, conflicts over children arise between parents and grandparents. The Michigan legislature codified grandparents’ rights in a statute that prevents grandparents from being completely cut-out of a child’s life.
All parents are “fit parents”under the statutory presumption. When a parent, “adequately provides for his or her children”, that parent is a “fit parent”.
If both presumably fit parents decide that their children cannot contact the grandparents, then the grandparents are cut-out. For grandparents to prevail in such a situation, a family court judge must find at least one parent unfit.
Court of Appeals Weighs-In, Again
Last month, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed this issue in Geering v King. A finding by the Kalamazoo County Family Court that both parents were unfit, and granting the paternal grandfather’s request for visitation with his grandchildren, was reversed by the Court of Appeals.
The family court found that both parents’ conduct rendered them unfit. In particular, the family court judge ruled that the parents did not properly communicate; were poor co-parents; meted out inconsistent discipline; and undermined each other to the four children.
Legal Analysis of Parenting Time
The Court of Appeals reversed the family court’s decision as, “against the great weight of the evidence”. Writing for the appellate court, former Waterford & Clarkston Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien stated:
While we acknowledge that, like most, if not all, parents, Geering and King are not perfect, it is our view that the record before us simply does not support a conclusion that either parent failed to adequately care for his or her children. The circuit court’s analysis largely focused on the parents’ failure to resolve various parenting issues during the contentious proceedings that took place both before and after the parents’ divorce.
Specifically, the circuit court pointed to the parents’ “inconsistency in discipline, the inconsistency in communication, the inconsistency in co-parenting, and not fostering the relationship with the other parent.” However, as the circuit court expressly acknowledged, the parents’ relationship has significantly improved since they resolved the remaining custody and parenting-time issues while this motion was pending. Indeed, as the trial court recognized, the record reflects that there was “improvement between mom and dad,” that “they [were] both starting to mature and get established,” and “that the children are doing well academically and emotionally and . . . have witnessed their parents being respectful and pleasant for each other.”
This published case does not create new rights so much as it clarifies the provisions of the grandparenting statute. If the parents disagreed on allowing grandparenting time, the grandparents would have had a claim.
In this case, both parents filed a joint affidavit opposing the grandfather’s visitation request. In the end, this made the difference according to the Court of Appeals’ analysis.
We Can Help
The constitutional basis adopted by the Court of Appeals in finding for the parents is jurisprudentially significant. The panel held that fit parents have a constitutional right to make decisions about the care, custody and management of their minor children.
If you have grandparent visitation issues, contact our law firm for a free consultation to discuss your options.