SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed bill in the Utah Legislature, HB64, would amend provisions related to child custody and visitation rights of an individual other than a parent.
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Kyle R. Andersen, R-North Ogden, addresses the Utah Supreme Court’s decision in Jones v. Jones by amending the factors that a court considers in granting visitation rights to grandparents.
The current Utah code provides a list of factors that courts can consider in deciding whether grandparents or other individuals have cause to override a parent’s decision to deny rights of visitation to their children. These factors were challenged in the Jones v. Jones case.
The Utah Supreme Court held that parents retain the fundamental right to exercise primary control of the care, supervision and upbringing of their children. This includes who parents grant visitation to. The court recognized that grandparent visitations are in the best interest of the child, but that such visits are not mandated by the Constitution. The fundamental parental right to exercise primary control of one’s children trumps that.
“This bill brings the Utah code into conformance with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Andersen said in a recent committee hearing. “It will save litigants on both sides time, money and heartache.“
Julie Anderson, a resident, said, “I am a grandparent who can relate to the anguish that grandparents know when their relationships with their grandchildren is removed from them. For me, this resulted in the death of my granddaughter and a complete loss of contact with a 17-year-old grandson, who we raised for 10 years.”
While Julie Anderson did not agree with some of the bill, she said it was a “good place to start” when it comes to grandparents providing an extra layer of support in a grandchild’s life.
Rep. Andersen said, with changing family patterns, increasing life expectancies, growing numbers of dual working households, higher rates of family breakdown, and rising opioid addiction, grandparents are now playing an increasing role in their grandchildren’s lives. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 2.7 million, or 4%, of children are raised by their grandparents,“ he said.
Lauren Barrus said she supported the bill on behalf of the Family Law Section of the Utah State Bar. The proposed statute would comply with the Jones v. Jones case in Utah, making it constitutional for litigants to ask the court to review their request to have visitation.
“In the Jones case, the grandparents had failed to show that breaking off that relationship would cause substantial harm to the grandchild,” Barrus said. “Clear and convincing evidence of substantial harm needs to be shown when that relationship is broken. Now the statute says that.”
The bill has been passed by the House and a Senate committee and waiting for a vote by the full Senate.