In one of my recent blog posts, I wrote on the subject of grandparent visitation and particularly on the case of R.K v. D.L. decided earlier this year. Since that decision, a New Jersey appellate court has further opined on this important topic. Any grandparent seeking visitation or any parent opposing such a request should recognize the unique nature of such cases and seek legal counsel who is knowledgeable in this specialized area of family law.
In Major v. McGuire, decided on April 17, the appellate court held that the trial court’s “ad hoc” dismissal of the Complaint for Grandparent Visitation constituted reversible legal error on the basis that the trial court failed to apply the legal criteria established in the seminal case of Moriarty v. Brandt decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2003 and the guidelines in R.K. v. D.L. Simply stated, grandparent visitation rights are subject to very significant differences due to the wishes of the child’s custodial parent. That being said, such applications should not be dismissed routinely or lightly since the stakes are high. R.K. v. D.L. established eight factors which a court must initially consider when presented with a grandparent visitation case, including the need for discovery and whether expert reports and testimony will be necessary. One aspect of the trial court’s error in Major v. McGuire was the injection of the judge’s “personal views” into his findings. This portion of the ruling is significant since appellate courts consistently give wide latitude to trial courts with special deference to family court judges.
Since every grandparent visitation case is fact-sensitive, generalized conclusions are inappropriate. Skilled advocacy is essential to guide the trial judge and, on occasion, the appellate court to the right result consistent with the specialized legal issues, the rights of the child’s custodial parent and the welfare of the grandchild.