Further Eroding Parents’ Rights in Michigan

The Republican-dominated legislature here in Michigan passed, and our Democratic Governor signed, a ridiculous law which forces parents who do not want their children to receive visits from their grandparents to defend such decisions in court.

The law is a bit complex. If two fit parents sign an affidavit opposing grandparent visitation, then a judge is required to abide by that decision — but parents shouldn’t have to go through such a silly process, and what if the parent is a single mother or father, or there is a divorce and the non-custodial and custodial parents disagree about grandparent visitation?

Then it all goes to court where the threshhold is pretty low. Basically the grandparents have to demonstrate the child would suffer mental, physical or emotional harm if deprived of regular visits with their grandchildren. Unless the parents can counter that the visits would not be in the best interests of the child, the court can order visitation against the wishes of the custodial parent.

Now my wife and I have very good relationships with my children’s grandparents, but I can imagine a lot of situations where this wouldn’t obtain. One of my grandmothers was a real piece of work whom I wouldn’t let anywhere near my kids. On the other thand, I’m not sure I could put together a case that it wasn’t in the best interests of the child to see such an individual.

Consider the following case — suppose one of my daughter’s grandparents was a vile racist, and my wife and I both agreed that we’d prefer he not have contact with my daughter. Under Michigan law, we could do that today, but we’d have to go both sign an affidavit and get lawyers involved. We can still do it, but its going to cost us.

Imagine a slightly different scenario. We have almost no contact with the grandparent, until he resurfaces after my wife dies an untimely death. In this scenario, I have to go to court and a judge has to weigh the emotional needs of the child to know her grandfather compared to my desire not to have this person associated with my child.

Under the law, this would be pretty straightforward — I’d win every time. But he can refile very two years, and I have to keep hiring attorneys and dealing with this crap on a regular basis.

And what if the example isn’t so straightforward. What if, for example, I convert to a religion that doesn’t believe in contact with people who are not members of my faith? What if I become a right wing religious nut and I no longer want my child to have contact with one of my parent who happens to be a homosexual?

The point is not that any of these reasons are very good or very bad, but that courts should not be making these decisions at all.

A judge ruled unconstitutional Michigan’s previous grandparents visitation law in 2003. Hopefully they’ll do the same thing to this one.

Sources:

ENROLLED SENATE BILL No. 727. Michigan Legislature, January 3, 2005.

Highlights of the past week’s action at the Capitol. Associated Press, January 8, 2005.

State Senate approves grandparent visitation law. Associated Press, December 8, 2004.

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