OLR Bill Analysis
AN ACT CONCERNING A GRANDPARENT'S RIGHT TO VISITATION WITH HIS OR HER GRANDCHILD.
This bill creates a different statutory standard for a grandparent seeking visitation of a minor grandchild when (1) at least one parent is deceased, (2) the parents are divorced, or (3) the parents do not live together. It applies existing law's third-party visitation standards (described below) to situations in which a grandparent is seeking visitation of a minor grandchild whose parents are alive, married, or living together.
By law, a “grandparent” is a grandparent or great-grandparent related to a minor child by blood, marriage, or adoption.
For petitions filed in the Superior Court under the new standard, the bill:
1. describes when the court must grant a grandparent visitation rights;
2. requires the court, when determining the child's best interest, to use the Judicial Branch's resources with no cost to the parties; and
3. allows the court to award the prevailing party necessary and reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees.
The bill also makes technical and conforming changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2017
VISITATION STANDARD WHEN THE CHILD'S PARENTS ARE APART
The bill requires a grandparent seeking visitation of a minor grandchild whose parents are apart (i.e., divorced, not cohabitating, or at least one is deceased) to petition the court under the bill's new standards.
Under the bill, the court must grant visitation rights if, at a hearing on such a petition, it finds by clear and convincing evidence that:
1. the child's parents or guardians are unreasonably depriving the grandparent of the opportunity to visit with the child,
2. awarding the grandparent visitation will not interfere with the relationship between the child and the parents or guardians, and
3. (a) the child's parents or guardians are unfit or (b) there are compelling circumstances to overcome the presumption that the decision by the parents or guardians to deny the grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the child.
Under the bill, "unreasonably depriving the grandparent of the opportunity to visit with the minor child" includes denying a grandparent the opportunity to visit with the child for more than 90 days.
(It is unclear how the Connecticut Supreme Court would view the bill's language in light of its rulings on federal constitutional requirements regarding visitation and parental rights (see BACKGROUND).)
EXISTING THIRD-PARTY VISITATION STANDARD
Under existing law, the court must grant a third-party who submits a verified petition the right to visit a child if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that (1) a parent-like relationship exists between the person and the child and (2) denial of visitation would cause real and significant harm. The law establishes specific factors the court may consider in determining if a parent-like relationship exists.
Under the bill, the third-party standard does not apply to a grandparent seeking visitation of a child whose parents are apart.
In determining whether a parent-like relationship exists between the person seeking visitation and the child, the court may consider the following:
1. existence and length of a relationship between the person and the child before the submission of a petition,
2. length of time that the relationship between the person and the child has been disrupted,
3. specific parent-like activities of the person seeking visitation of the child,
4. any evidence that the person seeking visitation has unreasonably undermined the authority and discretion of the custodial parent,
5. significant absence of a parent from the child's life,
6. death of one of the child's parents,
7. physical separation of the child's parents,
8. fitness of the person seeking visitation, and
9. fitness of the custodial parent.
In determining whether a parent-like relationship exists between a grandparent and a grandchild, the court may also consider the history of regular contact and proof of a close and substantial relationship between the grandparent and the child.
Related Federal Case
In Troxel v. Granville, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the State of Washington's grandparent visitation statute violated the U.S. Constitution's Due Process Clause because it interfered with a parent's right to make decisions about the care, custody, and control of his or her children (120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000)).
Under Troxel, state laws must (1) give deference to a fit parent's decision to deny visitation, (2) put the burden of proof on the grandparent, and (3) afford due process to a fit parent's decision.
Related Connecticut Case
In 2002, the Connecticut Supreme Court reviewed Connecticut's then-existing third party visitation statute in light of the federal constitutional requirements discussed in Troxel. The court imposed requirements on a third party, including a grandparent, seeking visitation under the statute. The court required the third party to make specific, good-faith allegations that (1) a parent-like relationship exists between the child and the person seeking visitation and (2) denial of the visitation will cause real and significant harm to the child. Once these jurisdictional hurdles are overcome, the court ruled that a petitioner must prove the allegations by clear and convincing evidence (Roth v. Weston, 259 Conn. 202 (2002), DiGiovanna v. St. George, 300 Conn. 59 (2011)). These requirements are currently codified in statute.
Joint Favorable Substitute