Last month, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed into law new legislation intended to increase the legal visitation rights of grandparents in the state.
Known as HB334, this bill was designed to better define the legal rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren in situations where the parents of the children may seek to prevent such interaction, and also to clear up lingering legal questions caused by the preexisting grandparent visitation statute.
The Alabama Supreme Court previously ruled that the existing grandparent visitation statute was unconstitutional, thus the new legislation repealed the old statute and created more clearly defined regulations on when and how grandparents can petition for visitation with their grandchildren.
Most importantly, the new bill created a clear burden of proof for grandparents to demonstrate: 1) that they had an existing, “significant and viable” relationship with the child, and 2) that visitation with the grandparents is in the best interest of the child.
This burden of proof must be met by the petitioning grandparents with “clear and convincing evidence.” Petitioning grandparents must rebut the court’s presumption that a fit parent’s decision to limit or prevent visitation between the grandparents and children is in the best interest of the children.
In order to demonstrate the required “significant and viable” relationship, the grandparents must demonstrate one of the following criteria:
- The child previously resided with the grandparent for at least six months
- The grandparent consistently served as caregiver for the child for at least six months. Or,
- The grandparent had frequent contact with the child for at least twelve months which resulted in a strong relationship developing between the two
HB334 also sets the circumstances under which a grandparent may intervene and file a visitation petition as “any action when any court in this state has before it any issue concerning 24 custody of the grandchild, including a domestic relations proceeding involving the parent or parents of the grandchild.”
Grandparents may file a visitation petition together or separately, but they can only file once every 24 months if they lose the petition. However, if one grandparent files a visitation petition on their own, which is subsequently rejected, any other grandparent may file a separate petition themselves afterwards without having to wait 24 months.
Grandparents play an incredibly important role in the lives of many children, and it is fantastic news that this legislation will help to further their ability to have a positive impact on their grandkids even when the parents of the children may try to prevent contact. If you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights in the state of Alabama, please contact the law office of John M. Totten today and let us fight to leverage your rights under this new legislation.