For many individuals, time spent with grandparents is filled with cherished moments. If a child loses a parent, grandparents may provide a way that the child can maintain a connection to the deceased parent’s side of the family. Unfortunately, however, something might happen leading to the deterioration of the relationship with the grandparents – usually, the breakdown of the relationship is between the remaining biological parent and the grandparents. If minor children are caught in the middle and grandparents are limited in the amount of time they are allowed to spend with their grandchildren, those grandparents might resort to family court to resolve the dispute. If you are a grandparent and find yourself in this situation, be mindful of Michigan law on this very topic: court mandated grandparenting time might be harder to get than you realize, for reasons we will explain below.
Michigan Law on Grandparenting Time
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion regarding grandparenting time in Repholz v Foster that emphasized an important aspect of grandparenting time cases: grandparents must provide evidence that the denial of grandparenting time “creates a substantial risk of harm to the child’s mental, physical, or emotional health.” If such a showing cannot be made, then the court must deny the request for grandparenting time. Stated another way, if the child’s parent does not want grandparenting time, the burden is on the grandparents to provide evidence that the denial of grandparenting time is not in their grandchild’s best interest.
Specifically, MCL 755.27b(4)(b) provides the following directive (which was recognized by the Repholz court):
“[I]t is presumed in a proceeding under this subsection 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 the presumption created in this subdivision, a grandparent filing a motion or complaint 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.”
Repholz at *2.
In this particular case, the plaintiffs were grandparents seeking court-mandated grandparenting time from the lower court. Their son, the defendant’s husband, had passed away. The relationship between the grandparents and their daughter-in-law deteriorated, thus leading to the grandparents’ decision to seek recourse from the court. Their request was granted based on a find that refusing to grant grandparenting time would be harmful to the child’s mental, physical, or emotional well-being. As a result, the child’s mother appealed.
Generally, in order for a trial court’s ruling regarding grandparenting time to be disturbed, the appellate court examining the case must find that the lower court’s ruling was “against the great weight of the evidence, [a commission of] a palpable abuse of discretion, or the court a clear legal error on a major issue.” Repholz at *2.
Grandparenting time was not appropriate in this case: why?
In reaching its conclusion that grandparenting time was inappropriately awarded, the Court of Appeals broke down the evidence presented by both the grandparents and their daughter-in-law. Testimony supporting the grandparents’ desire to spend time with their grandson included the following:
- the child was always happy to see his grandparents when they visited;
- the child was developing emotionally, and had made improvements in vocabulary, speech, and behavior as a result of the time he spent with them;
- the relationship was necessary in order for the child to understand his father’s life;
- the child never asked to leave early when he spent time with his grandparents; and
- he would “hug plaintiffs and climb up in their laps to read during the time he spent with [them].”
However, the child’s mother provided the following testimony explaining why she did not believe court-mandated grandparenting time was appropriate:
- after returning from visits with his grandparents, he indicated that he would have liked to return much earlier than he did;
- the child never indicated that he missed his grandparents if he didn’t see them for an extended period of time; and
- the child appeared to be “obsessed with death” after returning from overnight visits with his grandparents, and that he would be upset at times after visits with them.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court’s determination that “there was ‘no . . . reason whatsoever to resist or refrain from granting these grandparents parenting [sic] time'” was inappropriate. Repholz at *3. As we mentioned above, grandparents must prove that harm will result from the denial of grandparenting time. The grandparents did not address that issue in their testimony, and, as such, the trial court had no basis to even make that decision. A court may not merely decide that because grandparenting time is a good thing, it should be mandated.
The Sinas Dramis Family Law Division has helped countless families in Lansing, Grand Rapids, and across Michigan with their family law needs since 1951. We have helped individuals work through legal issues and concerns that arise with the changes in family structures and dynamics that inevitable arise. If grandparenting time is an issue of concern to you, please do not hesitate to contact our domestic relations attorneys to learn how we can help you.