Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-7244

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING A GRANDPARENT'S RIGHT TO VISITATION WITH HIS OR HER GRANDCHILD.

Vote Date:

4/7/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/13/2017

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

Numerous grandparents have complained, in certain situations, about not having reasonable visitation rights with their grandchildren.

Substitute Language: 1(b) substituted: If a petition has been filed by a grandparent and

1. Either or both parents are deceased

2. Parents are divorced

3. Parents are living separate

Then the verified petition for visitation shall be determined by the Superior Court. Any determination shall be made utilizing Judicial Branch resources and at no cost to the parties.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Department of Children and Familiies: In 2011, the General Assembly passed Special Act.11-12, which established a task force to study issues related to visitation rights for grandparents. Recommendations of this task force were enacted as Public Act 12-137, which established factors that the court may consider when determining whether a parent-like relationship exists between the petitioner and the minor. The act also specified visitation terms and conditions the court may set and clearly stated that any visitation rights granted to a third party do not prevent a custodial parent from relocating.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

State Represetative Mike France: Supports this bill. I acknowledge the general supremacy of parental rights in determining what is in the best interest of a minor child but believe that there should be consideration for maintaining a relationship between the grandchild and their grandparents, and that the courts be allowed to make that determination while ensuring the best interests of the children are met.

Aaron Kotowski, New Haven: Supports this bill. As the law in Connecticut stands in regards to grandparents' rights, it does not provide a reasonable and moral path for grandparents to maintain a meaningful connection to their grandchildren especially in instances when a parent has passed away and the surviving parent does not want to maintain ties with the deceased parents family. The law as it stands is well meaning in intent but does not protect grandchildren and grandparents from a capricious and malevolent parent from using children as pawns to punish grandparents and/or children for real or imagined transgression that could otherwise be dealt with through arbitration.

Frances Hernandez, Gary Bellaflores, Diana Clark-Hall, Sharon Hayden, Barbara V. Ciarlelli: Support this bill. Each of the above have submitted written testimony detailing how, through no fault of their own, they are unable to see their grandchildren. They feel it is in the best interest of their grandchildren to have a relationship with their grandparents.

Grandparents Rights Association of Connecticut Chapter: Emidio Cerasale, Director: Supports this bill. GRA of Ct. has submitted changes that do not conflict with Troxel vs Granville (2000) because the statute specifically states the parent's rights take priority unless there is proof something different should happen. The South Carolina bill has been law since 2014 and is working. After an abundance of research we feel the exact same language in their bill should replace Ct. Gen Statute 46b-59

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Coalition for the Restoration of Parental Rights, Karen A. Wyle, Indiana Attorney: Opposes this bill. In 2002, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued two decisions setting forth limitations on how Connecticut's nonparent visitation statute could constitutionally be applied. These decisions decreed that a trial court had no authority to order nonparent visitation unless the petitioner first alleged, and then proved by clear and convincing evidence, that “(1) the petitioner was someone with whom the child had a parent-like relationship; and (2) the child would suffer real and significant harm if dep[rived of the visitation,” Nor could “harm” be defined in some minimalist manner: “the degree of harms must be 'analogous to the kind of harm contemplated by GCS46b-120 and 46b-129, namely, that the child is 'neglected, uncared-for or dependent.”' These cases are still good law.

This bill, if passed, would eliminate the need to allege and prove a parent-like relationship and that visitation is necessary to prevent real and significant harm to the child. It would add inappropriate language to the current statute and be likely to increase intrusive, traumatic and financially ruinous family court litigation, to the serious detriment of Connecticut families. This bill would thus be bad public policy even if it did not also constitute outright defiance of the authority and rulings of the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Connecticut Legal Services, Raphael L. Podolsky: Opposes this bill. This bill is well intentioned – it seeks to expand grandparents visitation rights – but it is directly contrary to two Connecticut Supreme Court decisions that have defined the constitutional right to family integrity. It is neither desirable nor appropriate for the General Assembly to adopt legislation that directly contravenes the Constitution.

Hector Morera: Opposes this bill. Rather than write legislation that may not be needed as both our legislature and Supreme Court have addressed this matter and the OLR has done an exhaustive review of past legislation, I believe efforts should be placed in educating our judges about the existing rights that the legislature and our Supreme Court have provided.

Amye Huizinga: Opposes this bill. I am a grandparent who is being unjustly kept from my grandchildren. Although you might think I would want the government to stand with me, I do not. I believe that no good can come from this bill. The rights of parents greatly outweighs the desires of grandparents, and the government is already too intrusive in family matters.

Kathy Samodel, Carrie Ann Oetman, Robin Spada, Eddy Silva: Oppose this bill. While grandparents often play an important and meaningful role in the lives of their children and grandchildren, there are unfortunately circumstances when the parent-grandparent relationship becomes strained. When that happens, parents, and not grandparents, are ultimately responsible for acting in the best interest of their children.

Pam Lucashu, Durham: Opposes this bill. This bill is an unwarranted intrusion on parental rights. Parents are in the best position to make decisions in the best interests of the children. To permit grandparents to challenge those decisions within an intact family is unreasonable and will tend towards increasing division within the family.

Austin McCaslin: Opposes this bill. Giving grandparents rights that belong solely to parents creates unnecessary legal and emotional burdens on families where emotional burdens already exist. When there is a strain in a grandparent relationship, or that relationship has become toxic to the child or family, it is a parent's right to protect their child. This legislation undermines parent's rights and gives a forum for oppressive and controlling grandparents to control their adult children through their grandchildren and insert themselves in ways that are not appropriate. If grandparents wish to have a relationship with parents, it is their responsibility to cultivate a relationship of respect and support with the parents of the child. If they cannot do that, the state should not provide a forum for them to torment parents with unnecessary litigation.

Sharon Vlacich: Opposes this bill. Parents are responsible to determine what is in the best interest of their child.

Peter Szymonik, Glastonbury: Opposes this bill. This bill is a perfect example of what occurs when the same people (attorneys) who have created a problem for children and families in this state, and who personally profit from it, attempt to make proposals to solve it – by exploiting grandparents and their emotions.

Attorney Lorraine Carcova, Connecticut Legal Services: Opposes this legislation. The goal of this bill is laudable, however, we are concerned about the exemption from requirements established by the Connecticut Supreme Court in Roth v. Weston that a petition contain specific and good faith allegations that a parent like relationship exists. We are also concerned that authorizing courts to grant visitation absent proof that visitation with the child will cause serious emotional harm, families lose constitutional safeguards to protect them from having to defend against unjustified state intervention.

Attorney Dahlia Grace, Connecticut Legal Services: Opposes this bill. The Connecticut legislature has raised bills concerning court-ordered grandparent visitation with their grandchildren. The bill raised this year is especially harmful as it rips away key protection for parents which are contained in the current grandparent visitation statute, and severely weakens parents' rights to make decisions about raising their children without interference from others. The visitation by a grandparent has been litigated several times in the Connecticut Supreme Court. The jurisdictional and evidentiary standards in the case were codified in CGS 46b-59. The Court concluded that, in light of the presumption of parental fitness parents should not be faced with unjustified intrusions into their decision-making, absent specific allegations and proof of a parent-like relationship.

Jennifer McMahon, Salisbury: Opposes this bill. While grandparents often play an important and meaningful role in the lives of their children and grandchildren, there are unfortunately circumstances when the parent-grandparent relationship becomes strained. When that happens, parents and not grandparents are ultimately responsible for acting in the best interest of their children. Current law correctly strikes the balance in these difficult circumstances by preventing the state from getting involved unless there is evidence that the lack of visitation will result in “significant harm” to the child. This bill would greatly expand the ability of the state courts to interfere with and undermine the decisions of fit parents and intact families.

George Marinelli

April 21, 2017