Court Decides Which Grandparents Have Rights

Court Decides Which Grandparents Have Rights

As a grandparent, I know how strong can be the desire to be with grandchildren.  However, some family conflicts can threaten to prevent such contact.  For this reason, our legislature passed the Grandparents’ Visitation Law.  A recent court decision considered whether this act can apply to great-grandparents and found that it cannot.

The Grandparents’ Visitation Act provides as follows:

(1) Whenever a court of this state enters a decree or order awarding custody of a minor child to one (1) of the parents of the child or terminating the parental rights of one (1) of the parents of a minor child, or whenever one (1) of the parents of a minor child dies, either parent of the child’s parents may petition the court in which the decree or order was rendered or, in the case of the death of a parent, petition the chancery court in the county in which the child resides, and seek visitation rights with the child.

(2) Any grandparent who is not authorized to petition for visitation rights pursuant to subsection (1) of this section may petition the chancery court and seek visitation rights with his or her grandchild, and the court may grant visitation rights to the grandparent, provided the court finds:

(a) That the grandparent of the child had established a viable relationship with the child and the parent or custodian of the child unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights with the child; and

(b) That visitation rights of the grandparent with the child would be in the best interests of the child.

The Alexanders are great-grandparents. On January 7, 2013, the chancellor entered an order granting the Alexanders visitation rights with their great-grandchildren. The judge found that the Alexanders “. . .have kind of stood in the place of her mom in her life. . . ” and that the following criteria had been met in accordance with section 93-16-3(2) of the Act: (1) the Alexanders established a viable relationship with their great-grandchildren, (2) Lott, the mother of the children, unreasonably denied the Alexanders visitation rights with her children, and (3) the visitation rights would be in the best interest of the children.  Lott appealed, claiming that the chancellor erred by interpreting section 93-16-3 to include great-grandparents.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals denied the Alexanders’ petition for visitation, stating:  “Section 93-16-3 does not expressly define “grandparent” within the statute, but it does refer to a grandparent as the “parent of a child’s parent.” Miss. Code Ann. § 93-16-3(1).  And, there is no reference to “great-grandparents” in the statute.”  The Court found that the statute is “clear and unambiguous” and could not be interpreted to include great-grandparents, since to do so could infringe on the important right of the parent to rear her child.

Lott v. Alexander, No. 2013-CA-00104-COA (Ct. App. 2014)

If you have any questions about this or other issues, please call our office today at (601) 987-3000 for a phone or in-person consultation. We have experienced Mississippi Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorneys to help you with your questions and concerns.