Sen. Gerald Allen Introduces Bill to Strengthen Grandparent Visitation Rights

By Gerald Allen

Senator Gerald Allen (R-Cottondale) has pre-filed a bill to clarify the legal rights grandparents have to visit their grandchildren. Existing state law governing grandparent visitation rights has been deemed problematic by legal experts in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 Troxel v. Granville decision, which held that state courts must give “special weight” to the rights of parents in deciding what persons can visit their children. Senator Allen’s bill, should it become law, will replace the existing statue and clearly define the circumstances in which grandparents will have a right to visit their grandchildren.

“It’s time we clear up these constitutional issues, while giving grandparents a defined right to visit their grandchildren, when it’s in the best interests of the child,” remarked Senator Allen. “This bill also recognizes the priority of place that parents have in raising their kids, and encourages grandparents to work with parents for the welfare of the child in question,” Allen said.

Under the bill, a grandparent may be granted visitation rights by a court if the grandparent can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that he or she has a “significant and viable relationship” with the grandchild, and that visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild.

To establish that a significant and viable relationship exists between the grandparent and grandchild, the grandparent must prove that he or she either was the caregiver for the grandchild on a regular basis for a minimum of six months, or that a loss of relationship will cause harm to the grandchild. These guidelines will protect the rights of mature and stable grandparents to visit their grandchildren, while recognizing that parents have a fundamental and primary right in raising children.

“What matters is protecting the child psychologically and physically. My bill will help achieve this goal in a small part by ensuring that responsible grandparents can continue to be involved in their grandchild’s life when it is in the best interest of the child,” concluded Sen. Allen.

Senator Gerald Allen represents District 21 in the Alabama State Senate, which is comprised of all or parts of Tuscaloosa, Pickens, and Lamar Counties. He is chairman of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. Follow him on Twitter for his latest legislative updates: @SenGeraldAllen