On January 12, 2007, Maryland’s highest court considered a constitutional challenge of that State’s grandparent visitation statute. The Court ruled in favor of protecting parents against Intrusion by grandparents. Overruling 14-years of state judicial precedent, the court held that absent exceptional circumstances or parental unfitness, and detriment to the grandchildren, grandparents have no right to demand visitation with grandchildren when the parents are oppose contact.
As with all instances in which grandparents feel compelled to seek court intervention in order to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren, this case involved a bitter familial conflict the origin of which went back many years. When Glen and Andrea Koshko opposed demands for visitation by maternal grandparents John and Maureen Haining, the Hainings filed suit and demanded that the court order the parents to give them more time with the grandchildren.
A Maryland statute allowed a judge to order grandparent visitation if the judge thought it was in "the best interests of the child." This subjective standard gave judges a blank check to substitute their own judgment for that of parents. The Hainings presented in court a substantial amount of evidence to support their contention that they had a pre-existing grandparent/grandchild relationship and that it was in the best interests of the grandchildren to continue the relationship.
The Maryland high court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a judge to usurp parental discretion unless "exceptional circumstances" are present, or the parents have been determined to be unfit, and there would be detriment to the grandchildren. The high court remanded to the trial court to determine this.
The high court recognized the right to parental autonomy and said that when the trial court considers the case again, the parents must be given the benefit of a presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children. This is in keeping with previous decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Opinion: Koshko v Haining, (Court of Appeals, Maryland). Decided January 12, 2007.
To contact Jeanne Hannah with your questions or to view her Family Law website, click here.