Grandparent Rights Remain Limited

New NJ Appellate Case Reminds Litigants, Attorneys that Grandparent Visitation is Difficult (But Not Impossible) to Secure

GrandparentFamily Courts readily concede that grandparents (and extended family members generally) are an important part of any child’s early development. For example, New Jersey’s family courts will consider a child’s ability to interact with his or her family members when one parent request permission to relocate out of state. (See O’Connor v. O’Connor).

Family courts, as a general matter, nevertheless possess very little leeway to enforce “grandparenting time” when the children’s legal parents object to it.

The precedence for this reality goes all the way up to the United States Supreme Court; while the nation’s High Court has never set forth a clear universal standard, they sided with the parents’ prerogative to refuse grandparent visitation in a 2000 case. More recently, in February 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that might’ve provided additional guidance.

In New Jersey, as articulated by the Appellate Division in its recent unreported (and therefore non-precedential) decision in Koeppel v. Pierson, “there is a presumption favoring deference to a fit parent’s choice about visitation which must be overcome before the court may enter an order requiring visitation with grandparents as being in the child’s best interest.” The grandparents face a tall order overcoming this presumption; per the Moriarty decision cited by the Koeppel Court, grandparents must “establish by a preponderance of the evidence ‘exceptional circumstances’ warranting the best interest inference,” and that “the visitation is necessary to avoid harm to the child.”

That standard is harder than it sounds. Typically, only somewhat extreme circumstances (e.g. both parents are drug addicts) will allow grandparents to trump the legal parents’ rights.

An alternative strategy for grandparents is to demonstrate that “he or she has become a psychological parent to the child and stands in the shoes of a parent.” The Koeppel case provides one such possible example of this particular dynamic. In that matter, the grandmother lived with her granddaughter since she was only a few months old through her 6th birthday around the time that this action took place. At one point, the father consented to grandmom having custody but, ever before then, grandmom has assumed substantial responsibility for the child and served as her “principal caregiver.”

Suffice it to say, in the Koeppel case, the Court relied on Tortorice v. Vanartsdalen to determined that the grandmother was indeed a “psychological parent.” The articulated test relies on four (4) factors:

(1) the legal or biological parent consented to and fostered the formation of the psychological parent’s parent-like relationship;

(2) the psychological parent and the child resided in the same household;

(3) the psychological parent assumed parental obligations with expectation of financial recompense; and

(4) the psychological parent’s parental-like role has existed for a sufficiently long period of time to develop a dependent bond.

We can help if you’re dealing with similar issues. The standards for grandparenting time are challenging to meet but not insurmountable with experienced representation. If you are grappling with a child custody matter in New Jersey, a DeMichele & DeMichele attorney will walk you through the process. Most importantly, we will make sure that you have your factual ducks in a row so that the Court can make an informed decision that accurately accesses the important role that you play in your child or grandchild’s life.

Always remember: you don’t have to go through this alone! If you or a loved one have questions regarding child custody generally, parenting time, grandparent visitation, or other family court matters in the State of New Jersey, please don’t waste any time contacting the New Jersey family law attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele. Your confidential initial consultation is only a click or call away.  Call now to speak to one of our family law attorneys at (856) 546-1350 or click here to contact us online.