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Maryland family law and grandparents' rights

Divorce between spouses with children is always a trying time for the parents and children but can also be difficult for grandparents. The state of Maryland currently has laws specifically designed to ensure that the rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren are not destroyed by the parent's divorce. Those rights were first enacted back in 1993 as the Maryland Annotated Code, Family LawArticle § 9-102. That statute essentially says that the Equity Court has the authority to consider a petition from the grandparents for reasonable visitation of their grandchildren. It also allows the court to grant visitation rights to grandparents if it deems that would be in the best interest of the child.

It appears relatively straightforward. A grandparent simply needs to make a reasonable petition to the court, and the court should then grant the grandparents visitation rights. However, several landmark cases have since defined how the statute is currently interpreted. For example, the case of Brice v. Brice, 133 Md. App. 302 (2000) involved grandparents that were seeking to impose a visitation schedule on a mother with primary custody. The mother did not refuse the grandparents visitation; she simply felt that it violated her constitutional rights as a parent for the court to order her to allow the grandparents to dictate the timetable of when the visitations were supposed to occur. In Brice, the court cited an earlier case that basically found that the grandparent's rights could trump the parents' rights if the parent was found unfit or was restricting or denying the grandparents visitation.

The mother in the Brice case did not restrict or refuse visitation, and she was never deemed unfit. Therefore, Maryland courts are generally going to honor the wishes of the custodial parent unless the grandparents are able to show that the parent is either unfit or demonstrate some extraordinary circumstance. The following is some examples of factors the grandparents might want to submit in their petition for visitation of their grandchildren:

-- The grandparents had established a significant bond with the grandchild prior to the divorce.

-- The grandparent's relationship with the grandchild helps to promote the child's sense of stability.

-- The grandparents previously performed some parenting functions such as temporary child custody prior to the divorce.

Maryland grandparents seeking visitation may want to consider the advice of a family law attorney before submitting their filing.

Source:  General Assembly of Maryland, "Maryland Annotated Code, Family Law Article § 9-102" Aug. 06, 2014

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