The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently decided the case of C.D.P. v. D.P. and D.S.P. The case involved paternal grandparents who were seeking to have the Court award them visitation with their grandchild. The mother was opposed to unsupervised visitation. Their was no dispute that the grandparents had peviously been very active in the grandchild’s life.

The trial judge awarded the grandparents visitation. But, the Court of Appeals reversed that decision and held it to be improper.
The law regarding grandparent visitation has been in a state of flux ever since the United States Supreme Court rendered it opinion in Troxell v. Granville in 2000. I have previously written an article that reviewed that important decision which appeared in the Mobile Press Register.

It appears that post-Troxell, it will be very difficult for grandparents to receive Court Ordered visitation absent an allegation and finding that the custodial parent is unfit.

I will point out that this case was decided under a version of the grandparent visitation statute that has since been amended. But, the trend nationwide still seems to be that courts are slow to award grandparent visitation against the wishes of a fit parent.

The Alabama Supreme Court held in June of this year that the State’s grandparent visitation statute (§30-3-4.1, Ala. Code 1975) is unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. As a result, there may be no viable way for grandparents to obtain visitation rights with their grandchildren through a divorce court.

In Ex parte E.R.G., [Ms. 1090883, June 10, 2011] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2011) the Court found that the right of a fit parent to determine, among other things, who has contact with their child is a “fundamental” right and therefore any law interfering with that right must pass the “strict scrutiny” test to be constitutional. This test is the most stringent one a court applies to determine the validity of a statute and our Supreme Court held that it was not met in this case.

The question of how this ruling affects older cases where grandparent visitation has already been awarded was recently addressed in Burnette v. Burnett, [Ms. 2100935, December 9, 2011] ___So. 3d___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2011). The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held that a change in substantive law, such as a finding that a statute is unconstitutional, should be applied retroactively. As a result, the court overturned a previous award of visitation to grandparents.

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Jim Jeffries | Mobile & Baldwin County Attorney

Jim currently is a member of the Alabama Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement as well as a statewide committee that has been tasked with reviewing and making recommendations for possible revisions to Alabama's version of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Jim was also recently appointed by the President of the Alabama State Bar Association to a serve on a committee whose purpose is to review and comment on Alabama legislation regarding joint custody for a proposal to the Alabama Legislature for possible changes in this legislation.

Jim has attained a Peer Review Ranking of AV from Martindale-Hubbell® - The highest an attorney can be ranked by his peers.

He continues to lecture to attorneys across the state regarding family law issues.

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