Grandparent’s Visitation Rights Clarified by Court

Grandparent’s Visitation Rights Clarified by Court

Grandparents do not have natural or common law rights to visitation with grandchildren.  As noted in this recent Mississippi Court of Appeals decision, a contentious relationship with their own child may prevent grandparents from visiting with a grandchild.

Robyn Vermillion and Douglas Vermillion had a daughter, Chella Rose Vermillion.  Angela Vermillion, Douglas’ mother, filed a complaint seeking grandparent visitation with Chella Rose.  When Chella Rose was born, Angela visited the hospital and was allowed to hold her.  Angela next saw Chella Rose when the baby was forty-nine days old.  Angela claims that at that time, Robyn informed Angela that she would never see Chella Rose again.  Angela maintains that she has indeed been denied access to Chella Rose ever since.

On August 9, 2016, Angela filed a complaint for grandparent visitation.  At the time Angela filed her complaint, Chella Rose was a little over two years old. In her complaint, Angela claimed that she was entitled to visitation with Chella Rose because it would be in Chella Rose’s best interests and would “allow [her] to learn, discover[,] and become familiar with her paternal grandparents and their family.”

Robyn and Douglas testified that they are opposed to Angela having any visitation with Chella Rose.  Douglas stated that since he was in high school, he and his mother had a contentious relationship that alternated between civility and hostility.  Robyn stated that during her dating relationship with Douglas, she and Angela also had a contentious relationship.  Robyn expressed that the relationship remained contentious after she and Douglas were married.  Robyn and Douglas also asserted that even before Chella Rose was born, Angela attempted to interfere in their parenting decisions.

Grandparents’ visitation rights are purely statutory. Section 93-16-3(2), the statutory provision applicable to the facts of this case, permits grandparents to petition for visitation when a grandparent (1) shows a ‘viable relationship’ with his or her grandchild has been established, (2) visitation with the grandchild has been unreasonably denied by the grandchild’s parent, and (3) visitation is in the grandchild’s best interest. The best interest of the child must be the polestar consideration.

Section 93-16-3(3) defines “viable relationship” as “a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child, the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year, or the child has been cared for by the grandparents or either of them over a significant period of time during the time the parent has been in jail or on military duty that necessitates the absence of the parent from the home.”

The record clearly showed that Angela failed to meet her burden of proving that she had established a viable relationship with Chella Rose under the statutory definition, even though she was prevented from doing so by Chella Rose’s parents.  Therefore, the chancellor was correct in ruling in favor of Robyn and Douglas and dismissing Angela’s complaint.