Richmond Times-Dispatch

Grandparen­t visitation lawneeds strengthen­ing

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EDITOR, TIMES-DISPATCH:

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.

GLADE SPRING.

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