Grandparent visitation lawneeds strengthening
The neighboring state of Tennessee has strong grandparent visitation rights, protecting grandparents who no longer are permitted to visit their grandchildren. Virginia’s laws arenot as clear.
I amfortunate to be a grandmother of three, and to have spent years as a caretaker in my grandchildren’s lives in Southwest Virginia — more than a decade for the oldest. Access to my grandchildren ceased when my son tragically died in 2017, and so I lost contact with four important people around the same time.
Virginia allows for grandparents to ask for visitation with their grandchildren, but the law sets a remarkably high and nebulous bar to grant access. We are required to prove “actual harm” to grandchildren absent of visitation. “Actual harm” is not well-defined in the law, and proving it presents a nearly impossible standard.
Tennessee has laws that better define harm from cutting off grandchildren’s access to grandparents, considering how robust their relationships were. Other states, including Texas, Connecticut and Massachusetts, recently have seen a groundswell of advocacy to improve visitation laws. I hope Virginia is next.
I amencouraged by legislation such as Senate Bill 571, introduced earlier this year in Virginia, particularly for grandparents like me who have lost their children. But this bill does not go far enough.
Like Tennessee, Virginia could better explicitly define harm, in addition to considering the strength of the grandparent-grandchild relationship in rulings. Legislators should support such improvements to SB 571, which might be considered for the 2021 legislative session.
I pray that one day I again can see my grandchildren. Having lost their father and my son, I think we all would benefit. I imagine that other grandparents in Virginia, if faced with this scenario, would feel the same way. PAMELA PRICE.