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Grandparent visitation rights after a stepparent adoption

A California appeals court decided that the state’s grandparent visitation statute did not violate the equal protection rights of adoptive parents.

In the case of Finberg v. Manset, a California Superior Court’s dismissal of a paternal grandmother’s petition for visitation rights with the minor child on constitutional grounds was reversed by the Second District California Court of Appeal. The appeals court decided that that a provision under the state’s grandparent visitation statute, permitting a petition to be filed following a stepparent adoption, was constitutional and did not violate the equal protection rights of adoptive parents.

The California statute permits court-ordered grandparent visitation rights under limited circumstances. Grandparents generally cannot petition for visitation rights if the child’s parents are married, but the law carves out certain exceptions, including cases where the child has been adopted by a stepparent. Reasonable visitation by a grandparent with the child is permitted under the statute where there is proof of a preexisting relationship between the grandparent and the child and proof that visitation is in the best interest of the child.

Background and procedural history

The child was born in 2001. The child’s mother and the child’s natural father, who is the petitioner’s son, obtained a divorce in 2004. The mother remarried in 2005. The stepfather adopted the child in 2009 after a court terminated the parental rights of the natural father.

In 2011, the petitioner filed proceedings to obtain visitation rights with the child. The petition asserted that the petitioner was once the child’s primary caregiver and that the petitioner and the child had maintained a close relationship together throughout the child’s life.

The mother and stepfather opposed the petition and requested a dismissal of the case, claiming that the petitioner lacked legal standing to file for visitation because the child’s parents are married and living together. The trial court ordered a dismissal based on a determination that the grandparent visitation statute unfairly discriminates between adoptive parents and biological parents.

The Second District’s ruling

The Second District rejected the argument by the mother and stepfather that the statute violated their rights to equal protection rights under the California and the U.S. Constitutions by treating adoptive parents differently from biological parents.

The Second District said the law was constitutional because it balances the child’s interest in having grandparent visitation against the rights of parents to exercise their parental authority. The state has a legitimate and compelling interest in promoting the best interests of children. The stepparent-adoption exception promotes the best interests of children by allowing grandparent visitation with a child when the child’s parents get a divorce and afterward a parent remarries and there is a stepparent adoption. The legislature’s purpose was to remove the ability of a stepparent who adopts a child from preventing a grandparent, who would otherwise be eligible for visitation, from obtaining visitation rights. The legislature’s intent was to provide stability to grandchildren where the family unit has been torn apart in a divorce. Grandparents can play a vital role in the lives of grandchildren in these difficult times by providing them with advice, comfort, and emotional.

Contact an attorney

Individuals facing issues relating to divorce, child custody, child support, visitation rights and other family law matters are urged to consult with a competent attorney, experienced in family law cases, to ensure the protection of legal rights.