Grandparent Visitation in Rhode Island

On March 13, 2019, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued an opinion clarifying the law surrounding grandparent visitation in Rhode Island.  If you or someone you know is a grandparent who is unable to see their grandchild or facing extremely difficulty trying to do so, it is important to understand your legal rights associated with grandparents visitation.  Please contact experienced family court attorneys Gregory N. Hoffman at ghoffman@bglaw.com and Rui P. Alves at ralves@bglaw.com or by phone at 888.273.9903 to discuss your situation and determine whether filing a petition in Family Court is the right move for you.

R.I. Laws that Allow for Grandparent Visitation

In Rhode Island, there are three separate statutes that allow for grandparent visitation.  The determination of which statute a petition seeking grandparent visitation should be filed is based upon several factors including whether the child of the grandparent is alive or deceased and whether the parents of the grandchild are parties to a divorce action.

R.I.G.L. § 15-5-24.1, entitled “Visitation rights of grandparents” allows for grandparent visitation when the child of the grandparents is deceased.  This statute provides that “[t]he court may, upon miscellaneous petition of a grandparent whose child is deceased, grant reasonable visitation rights of the grandchild or grandchildren to the grandparent, whether or not any divorce or custody proceedings were ever commenced, and may issue all necessary orders to enforce visitation rights.”

R.I.G.L. § 15-5-24.2, entitled “Visitation rights of grandparents whose child is denied or has failed to exercise rights” allows for grandparent visitation when the parents of the grandchild are parties to a divorce proceeding.  The statute provides that “[i]n any divorce proceeding the family court may, upon petition of a grandparent whose grandchild is a child of the marriage, grant reasonable visitation rights of the grandchild to the grandparent.  The court may issue all necessary orders to enforce visitation rights.  Once a grandparent has been granted reasonable visitation rights, notice of any petition and/or order providing for a change in custody or visitation shall be provided to the grandparent.”

Finally, R.I.G.L. § 15-5-24.3, entitled “Visitation rights – Grandparents and siblings” sets forth the standard that the family court shall use when faced with a petition seeking grandparents visitation.  Specifically, the statute provides that the court may grant reasonable rights of visitation of the grandchild to the grandparents if it finds that:

  1. That it is in the best interest of the grandchild that the petitioner is granted visitation rights with the grandchild;
  2. That the petitioner is fit and proper person to have visitation rights with the grandchild;
  3. That the petitioner has repeatedly attempted to visit his or her grandchild during the thirty (30) days immediately preceding the date the petition was filed and was not allowed to visit the grandchild during the thirty (30) day period as a direct result of the actions of either, or both, parents of the grandchild;
  4. That there is no other way the petitioner is able to visit his or her grandchild without court intervention; and
  5. That the petitioner, by clear and convincing evidence, has successfully rebutted the presumption that the parent’s decision to refuse the grandparent visitation with the grandchild was reasonable.

McTavish-Thurber v. Gauvin- Decision Issued March 13, 2019

In McTavish-Thurber v. Gauvin, the maternal grandmother filed a petition in the Providence County Family Court seeking grandparent visitation with her two (2) grandchildren.  The grandmother filed her petition under R.I.G.L. § 15-5-24.1, because her daughter was deceased, as well as R.I.G.L. § 15-5-24.3 contending, in part, that an order establishing grandparents visitation was in the best interest of the grandchildren.

At the hearing, the grandmother testified that following her daughter’s death, she help care for the grandchildren, especially on the weekends, but as time went on she spent less and less time with the grandchildren.  The grandmother further testified that after March 2015, she no longer saw the grandchildren at all despite numerous messages and requests to their father seeking the same.

At the hearing, the father testified that, while the grandmother was a fit parent, the grandchildren were experiencing behavioral issues at school that occurred regularly after their visits with grandmother.  In addition, father testified the grandchildren would return home from visits with the grandmother with bags under their eyes and would sometimes come home vomiting and with diarrhea.  Father also testified that since the visits with grandmother had stopped, the grandchildren’s behavior had improved.  A Family Court investigator who interviewed the pertinent parties recommended that no further visits with the grandmother take place.  As a result, the hearing justice denied the petition finding that the grandmother failed to meet her burden as required by R.I.G.L. § 15-5-24.3

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Family Court justice.  Specifically, the Court held that the grandmother failed to meet her burden to rebut the presumption, by clear and convincing evidence, that father’s decision to refuse grandparent visitation was reasonable.

For more information

If you have any questions about grandparent visitation in Rhode Island, please contact us:

Gregory N. Hoffman | ghoffman@bglaw.com | 888.273.9903

Gregory N. Hoffman focuses his practice on complex family law, personal injury law and criminal law. He actively practices in the courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island litigating cases such as divorce, child custody, grandparents visitation, domestic violence, criminal defense and personal injury.  In addition, Greg devotes a significant amount of time developing comprehensive and cost-effective solutions in the drafting of a variety of domestic relations agreements such as Separation Agreements, Marital Settlement Agreements and Antenuptial Agreements.

Rui P. Alves | ralves@bglaw.com | 888.273.9903

Rui P. Alves is an experienced Rhode Island and Massachusetts litigator and advocate in family law, criminal law and government relations matters in both state and federal court. Rui concentrates his practice on helping individuals and corporations craft solutions for complex issues related to domestic relations, criminal defense and government affairs.

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