Grandparenting Time: when must it be allowed?

Hollis v Miller reinforces key aspect of Michigan Grandparenting Time law

The Michigan Court of Appeals in a recent, unpublished decision, found that a grandmother seeking to reinstate visitation with her grandson after his father no longer allowed her to see him had to prove that there would be a substantial risk of harm to the child as a result of the ceased contact, and, because she failed to provide the proof needed to support that claim, the father’s decision to stop visitation was respected.

The daughter of the plaintiff, Rita Hollis, had a child with the defendant-father, Mr. Miller. Her daughter was not allowed in the child’s life, but the defendant allowed the daughter’s family (including Hollis) to spend time with the child. However, over time, the Defendant began to limit the amount of time his son spent with Hollis and the rest of her family, and visitation ultimately stopped. Hollis filed a complaint in order to have visitation reinstated.

In the lower court, although there were witnesses who testified that the plaintiff and her grandson enjoyed a close relationship, there was no direct evidence presented that her grandson would suffer substantial harm as a result of the loss of contact. Hollis’s witnesses merely attested to the fact that the two shared a close bond, and that other children might be affected by the loss of contact between grandmother and grandson. The trial court nonetheless ruled that visitation must be allowed, and the defendant appealed.

The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a trial court must give deference to a fit parent’s decision regarding parenting time. Looking at the statue governing parenting time, the court noted that it was amended to include an additional provision stating that “a fit parent’s decision to deny grandparenting time does not create a substantial risk of harm to the child’s mental, physical or emotional health. To rebut this presumption . . . a grandparent filing a complaint or motion under this section must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the parent’s decision to deny grandparenting time creates a substantial risk of harm to the child’s mental, physical, or emotional health. If the grandparent does not overcome the presumption, the court shall dismiss the complaint or deny the motion.” (emphasis added)

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, ruling that the plaintiff’s arguments that her grandson needed contact with a loving grandparent and needed some connection to his maternal side of the family were not enough to rebut the presumption favoring the father’s decision.

This unpublished ruling is in keeping with the prior published opinion by the Michigan Court of Appeals in Keenan v Dawson, 275 Mich App 671 (2007).