TALLAHASSEE – In a case that highlights the continuing debate over the rights of grandparents, the Florida Supreme Court is reviewing the case of a mom who has refused her late husband's parents the chance to see their grandchildren even though a Colorado court had previously awarded them three weeks of visitation a year.
Federal law does not favor the arguments put forward by the grandparents in this particular case, Richard Kent, a family lawyer and partner with the firm Meyers Breiner & Kent LLP in Connecticut told the Florida Record.
A 2000 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville “took away whatever rights and forces grandparents to prove they have what is tantamount to a parent-child (relationship) with the grandchild in order to petition for visitation rights," Kent said.
In Troxel v. Granville, Jenifer and Gary Troxel petitioned for the right to visit the children of their late son. The court ruled in favor of the mother, Tomie Granville, stating that, “the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children--is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this court."
“Florida law is even more stringent than Troxel,” Kent said.
Senate Bill 368, which was signed into law in July 2015 by Gov. Rick Scott, however, gives grandparents the right to petition for visitation if the parents of the child are “deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state, or whose one parent is deceased.” Once the grandparents put forth their petition, the bill states that it may award visitation rights if they find “clear and convincing evidence that a parent is unfit or that there is significant harm to the child, that visitation is in the best interest of the minor child, and that the visitation will not materially harm the parent-child relationship.”
Jamie B. Moses, the attorney for the mother, has been adamant that the courts will side with her client.
“The Florida Constitution affords parents the right to privacy and complete autonomy in child-rearing," Moses told WCTV earlier this month. "And the Colorado visitation order violates that. Period.”
Andrew Windle, the lawyer for the grandparents, told WCTV that if the Florida court decided to vote in favor of the mother, it would “allow Florida to harbor people who want to contravene law implemented by other states that was appropriately applied to them in a fair and just proceeding.”
Kent believes the main issue that will be looked at by the state Supreme Court is whether Florida law overrides Colorado law. Because the mother lives in Florida, its “statutory scheme” grants grandparents limited visitation rights, Kent said that the “court will have to rule whether or not it is willing to accept the statutory scheme and public policy of Colorado.”
The Florida Supreme Court is not expected to make a decision until later this year.