On May 12, 2015, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, in the case of In re: PB, issued a decision clarifying when grandparents can petition for visitation rights with grandchildren. In the PB case, after the child’s parents died in 2012, the child was adopted by his mother’s sister. The child’s grandparents asked a court for visitation rights arguing that they had consistent, but not extensive, contact with their grandchild before his parents died.
In response to the grandparents’ petition, the child’s adoptive parents moved to dismiss the action. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and the Supreme Court affirmed. In its opinion, the Supreme Court stated that grandparents only have standing to seek visitation if their access to the child has been restricted because of the parents’ death, divorce, relinquishment, or termination of parental rights, or some other cause that results in the absence of a nuclear family. Unless one of these conditions has occurred, a grandparent has no authority to independently seek visitation with their grandchild through the court system.
In the PB case, the Supreme Court held that once these statutory conditions were met; that is the death of the parents, the grandparents could petition for visitation with their grandchild. The statutory conditions did not, however, have to exist at the time they filed their petition. In other words, the subsequent creation of a new family unit does not divest a grandparent of the standing necessary to seek visitation rights.
It bears noting that merely granting standing to seek visitation did not mean that the grandparents ultimately prevailed. In PB, the trial court ultimately denied the petition, which the Supreme Court also upheld on appeal. The Supreme Court noted that the rights of the child’s parents are entitled to great judicial deference. Therefore, in a petition for grandparent visitation, the trial court will look carefully at what would be in the child’s best interest and whether the visitation will interfere with any parent/child relationship or the parent’s authority over the child.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].