Christian Action League
This week, lawmakers in a House Judiciary Committee started looking more closely at a controversial bill that would give grandparents a stronger legal footing to demand visitation with their grandchildren. While sponsors of the legislation acknowledged in House Judiciary Subcommittee C on Wednesday that many lawmakers oppose it on the grounds that it would infringe on parental rights, they insisted that there must be common ground where the needs of children and grandparents can be met.
Current North Carolina law allows a grandparent to sue for visitation when the question of custody is already before the court, when circumstances have changed since custody was determined, when a minor child is adopted by a step-parent, or when a child’s parent is deemed unfit. But promoters of the bill say more must be done.
Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie) and Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) shared stories of couples who had been denied contact with their grandchildren after their daughters died and their sons-in-law remarried.
“I know there are people so opposed to this legislation who could tell you bad stories about bad mother-in-laws or bad father-in-laws, but on the other side of that coin there are other stories also …,” Rep. Howard said. “A young mother was killed in a car accident with 5-year-old twins, and the father remarried and moved to New Mexico. And there is absolutely no relationship with these 5-year-old twins and these maternal grandparents.”
Howard said every child has a right to know his ancestry and heritage.
Primary-sponsor William Brisson (D-Cumberland) said the bill’s goal was to help grandparents and children who had been “left behind.” He criticized the Christian Action League’s opposition to the measure, accusing CAL Executive Director Rev. Mark Creech of focusing only on “bad grandparents” and also called out Jere Royall, counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council, who has pointed out how the bill would force mothers and fathers to go before a judge to explain their parental decisions.
Mistakenly referring to Royall as “Mr. Falwell,” Brisson said he was disappointed that a conversation with him about the bill had centered on parents’ rights and not children.
“Parenthood is changing,” he said. “Kids are just being left behind.”
At the request of the bill sponsors, the legislation was sent to a subcommittee including Representatives Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin), Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake), Verla Insko (D-Orange), Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe) and Rayne Brown (R-Davidson). The group is expected to report back to Judiciary C with whatever compromise bill might be developed at which time it would be given a full committee hearing.
“We know that there are wonderful grandparents who, seemingly without good reason, have been denied access to their grandchildren,” said the Rev. Creech. “But we also know that every time we, as a state, bring someone else to the table to stake their claim in what is truly a matter between parents and their children, we weaken and undermine the family structure.”