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Can a Rhode Island Court Order Grandparent Visitation?

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island family court case discussing whether the plaintiff grandmother could obtain visitation rights to see her grandchildren. Ultimately, the court concluded that the children’s father was a fit parent and that the plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption that a fit parent’s decisions are reasonable. Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s petition for visitation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s daughter was married to the defendant. The couple had two children. The couple eventually filed for divorce, but while the divorce was pending the plaintiff was shot and killed by law enforcement in a bank robbery.

Initially, the plaintiff maintained a good relationship with the defendant, taking his side over her daughters in the divorce. After the plaintiff’s daughter died, the plaintiff helped the defendant with child-care, because the plaintiff worked. However, the defendant noticed that after visits with the plaintiff, his children would come back with bags under their eyes, diarrhea, and symptoms of being sick. The children eventually started to exhibit behavioral problems at school, most notably after visits with the plaintiff.

On one occasion, the defendant recalled his children coming home terribly upset after a visit at the plaintiff’s home. During that visit, the plaintiff had shown the children their mother’s ashes and sorted through some of her old belongings. One of the children began to have nightmares, and also needed to see the school nurse when his heartbeat reached 200 beats per minute.

When the children got a little older, the defendant started to let them decide if they wanted to go over to the plaintiff’s home. The children never wanted to go, and the defendant stopped answering the plaintiff’s calls. The plaintiff later filed this petition seeking court-ordered visitation.

The Court’s Opinion

The court began its analysis by noting that Rhode Island law allows for a court to order grandparent visitation. A grandparent seeking visitation must also show:

  • that visitation is in the best interest of the child;
  • that the grandparent is a fit and proper person to have visitation;
  • that the grandparent has tried to see the child in the 30 days immediately preceding the filing of the petition;
  • that there is no other way to see the grandchildren without a court order; and
  • that the grandparent presented clear and convincing evidence rebutting the presumption that the parent’s decision to refuse the grandparent visitation with the grandchild was reasonable.

Here, the court noted that there was no dispute that the defendant was a fit parent. Thus, the court explained that his decisions regarding his children were entitled to deference. The court determined that the plaintiff failed to overcome the presumption that the defendant’s choice to prevent visitation were reasonable. The court also found that the plaintiff was not a “fit and proper” person to have visitation. Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s petition for visitation.

Are You involved in a Visitation Dispute?

If you are currently involved in a Rhode Island child visitation dispute, the dedicated attorneys at the Rhode Island family law firm of Bilodeau Capalbo can help. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we have extensive experience assisting clients with all types of family court issues, including visitation matters. To learn more about how we can help you with your situation, call 401-300-4055 to schedule a free consultation today.

See Related Posts:

What Is an Easement in Rhode Island Real Estate Law?, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Blog, February 13, 2019.

Can a Rhode Island Marriage Be Annulled or Declared Void?, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 4, 2019.

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