By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
April 17, 2015
RALEIGH – Wednesday the House Judiciary III Committee took-up for discussion purposes only, HB 413 – Expand Grandparent Visitation Rights. No action was taken on the measure.
Several people, who included many grandparents, spoke in favor of the legislation. Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, was present for the hearing on the bill and was prepared to speak, but unfortunately had to leave before the measure was brought up. He needed to address another piece of legislation being considered in a different committee that was meeting at the same time.
Dr. Creech said, “We’ve had a number of grandparents call our office and inquire as to why we oppose such legislation. They tell me horrific stories of the unjust ways their adult children are keeping their grandchildren from them – sometimes to manipulate them – sometimes to punish them – sometimes just to spite them. It’s heartbreaking to hear their stories. I’m not insensitive to their pain. But let’s not forget that sometimes good parents are trying to protect their children from bad and malevolent grandparents. And, because a parent has a God-given constitutional right to raise their own child, I hope such legislation never advances.”
Currently, North Carolina law allows grandparents to sue for visitation rights when (1) the parents are divorcing and the custody of a child is at issue in an ongoing proceeding; (2) in a situation where the grandparents can prove circumstances have changed since custody was determined and that grandparents’ visits are in the best interest of the child; (3) if a minor child is adopted by a step-parent or relative of the child and a substantial relationship exist with the child; (4) to seek custody in a case where the child’s parent is deemed unfit.
HB 413, however, would expand grandparents rights to allow a court to award visitation rights to grandparents if (1) the court determines there are compelling circumstances “to overcome the presumption of the parent’s right to determine what is in the child’s best interest”; (2) when the parent of the child is deceased, incapacitated due to physical or mental disability, or incarcerated, and (3) if “visitation is in the best interest of the child.”
The legislation sets forth five criteria for determining whether grandparent’s visitation would be “in the best interest of the child.” But the fifth reason sited broadly states, “Any other relevant factors the court deems necessary in determining the best interest of the child.”
“In other words,” said Dr. Creech, “its largely left to the discretion of the court.”
Jere Royall, an attorney who also represents the North Carolina Family Policy Council as a lobbyist, spoke before the Judiciary III Committee, and expressed their opposition to the bill. Royall noted both federal and state courts have clearly determined parental rights as fundamental.
“In 1995, the North Carolina Supreme Court reaffirmed that parents have a ‘paramount right…to custody, care and nurture of their children,’ which includes with whom their children associate. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a Washington State third party visitation statute unconstitutional based on the fundamental right of parents to ‘make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children,’” said Royall.
“In addition,” added Royall, “North Carolina case law clearly establishes that grandparents do not have standing to sue for visitation when custody is not in dispute and the child is living with the natural parents in an intact family.”
Kathy Hartkoph, a concerned parent from Hillsborough, North Carolina, has been addressing such legislation since 1997. In a letter sent to lawmakers this week, she said, “The concept has been given its hearing – many times over. It’s been a threat to North Carolina parents for years.”
In her letter she also says, “Supporters of this bill have asked time and again the harm of allowing grandparents their day in court regarding visitation of their minor grandchildren?”
She then answers the question by quoting Justice Anthony Kennedy in the same 2000 Supreme Court case noted by Royall during the Judiciary III Committee’s discussion on HB 413.
“It must be recognized, of course, that domestic relations proceeding in and of itself can constitute state intervention that is so disruptive of the parent-child relationship that the constitutional right of a custodial parent to make certain basic determinations for the child’s welfare becomes implicated. The ‘best interest of the child’ standard has at times been criticized as indeterminate, leading to unpredictable results. If a single parent who is struggling to raise a child is faced with visitation demands from a third party, the attorney’s fees alone might destroy her hopes and plans for the child’s future. Our system must confront more often the reality that litigation can itself be so disruptive that constitutional protection may be required; and I do not discount the possibility that in some instances the best interests of the child standard may provide insufficient protection to the parent-child relationship.”
Dr. Creech said the legislation recalls for him a parable once told by Jesus about the way an enemy sowed bad seed in a man’s field. Weeds grew up next to the wheat and some of the servants sought to pull up the weeds while the wheat was still growing in the field. Nevertheless, the owner of the field instructed his servants not to do that for fear that they might uproot the wheat.
“One application of this text is that sometimes there are circumstances where in trying to prevent one wrong we create the unintended consequence of a greater wrong,” said Dr. Creech. “I know it’s well-intended, but this legislation will do more harm than good by violating what should be an inviolable right – a parent’s authority over their own child, including their decision to determine with whom their child associates.”
The North Carolina Family Policy Council, the Christian Action League, the N.C. National Organization of Women, as well as their parent organization, the National Organization of Women, have expressed opposition to HB 413.
Take Christian Action:
Reliable sources tell the Christian Action League that HB 413 is likely to come up for a vote before the House Judiciary III Committee, Wednesday, (April 22) of next week. The email addresses of the members who make up that committee are listed below. Simply address your email as: Dear Judiciary III Committee Member. Then graciously express in the body of your email your opposition to this legislation. Let’s encourage committee members not to facilitate this threat to a parent’s right to raise their own child.
Email addresses of House Judiciary III Committee members: