Third party visitation cases have become increasing difficult cases to establish ordered child access. The standard has been and remains that in order for grandparents or other third parties to be awarded visitation with a grandchild/child they must show either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances. For more information regarding third party visitation see our August 11, 2009 blog post. Maryland’s second highest court recently filed an opinion in the case of Brandenburg v. LaBarre on June 2, 2010, which held that in order to prove exceptional circumstances in a third party visitation case, third parties must show that without visitation there will be significant harm to the children. I am of the opinion that prior to this decision, exceptional circumstances could be proven without proving actual/significant harm to the children.
This visitation case was originally heard in 2008 in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The LaBarres, the children’s grandparents, filed a Complaint for Visitation after they had a falling out with their son and daughter-in-law, the Brandeburg’s. The Brandenburgs have four young children and until February 2008 the LaBarres cared for the children often and spent a great amount of time with the children. After hearing testimony from both sides, including the LaBarre’s testimony that exceptional circumstances existed because the children had previously spent so much time with them, the Judge granted the LaBarres one overnight visit a month and one week in the summer with the children. The Judge noted that the LaBarres had shown no evidence that the children had been harmed by lack of contact with them, but that it was unreasonable for them to have to do so given they had no contact with the children for some time. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the Judge’s decision stating that the test for exceptional circumstances is whether or not the children are suffering significant harm because they are not allowed contact with the third party seeking visitation. In this case, because the parents were fit, they have the right to decide who can visit their children unless these exceptional circumstances are proven.
For more information on third party visitation, contact an experienced family law attorney.