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Grandparent Visitation: What Happens When A Parent Dies?

Relationships with grandchildren are special but they can also become complicated.  Even if you get along with your child,Grandparent-and-child-300x20059177674 you may not get along with his or her spouse.  This can cause tension, especially when you want to visit with your grandchildren and are blocked from seeing them.

In New Jersey family law matters, grandparents can ask the court for visitation time with their grandchildren, but the courts still respect the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit.  So, a grandparent trying to get visitation time with grandchildren must prove to the court that the visits are necessary, to avoid harm to the child.

To meet this standard, grandparents must prove that there is a “special need for continued contact,” one that exceeds “an ordinary grandparent-child relationship and its unwanted termination.”  New Jersey courts also require a grandparent to show that a specific harm will result if visitation is denied.  It is not enough to simply say that a child needs grandparents in his or her life; New Jersey family courts require a grandparent to specify how the grandchild will be harmed if visitation is denied.

This is a very tough standard, but a recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division may help ease the burden on grandparents. In D.G.G. v. B.B.G., the Appellate Division reaffirmed that “the death of a parent could create a ‘special need for continued contact’ between the child and the grandparents from the deceased parent’s side of the family.”

This case was sparked by a dispute between the child’s father (B.B.G.) and the child’s maternal grandmother.  The child had been born in New Jersey, in 2000, during the father’s marriage to the child’s mother (D.G.G.), who was from Brazil and whose parents (the grandparents) lived there.

During the parties’ marriage, the mother took the son to Brazil and refused to return him to the United States.  After being granted a divorce in Brazil in 2007, the mother remarried but died in Brazil during the birth of a child who had been fathered by her new husband.  The maternal grandparents and the new husband lived with the parties’ child after her death and helped to raise him.

After three Brazilian court-appointed psychologists found that the new husband and the grandparents had subjected the parties’ son to “a pernicious process of parental alienation,” the child’s father regained legal and physical custody of his son, who returned with the father to New Jersey in 2009.

In 2010, the maternal grandparents filed a complaint seeking to enforce unlimited visitation rights with their grandson.

The trial court denied the boy’s grandmother any visitation with the child, noting that the boy “had formed a strong bond with his maternal grandparents, but also that the bond was obtained illegally and was thus too tainted by misconduct to provide the basis for grand-parental visitation beyond that permitted by [the father].”

The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s ruling.  It found that the death of the boy’s mother, combined with his “unusually close bond” with his maternal grandmother, was especially important In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division noted that the boy’s therapist had recommended that he should continue to have a relationship with his maternal grandmother.

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