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Melissa A. Featherston

Could grandparents' rights come to be at risk in Missouri?

There has been a significant amount of litigation as to what role a grandparent should play in their grandchild's life. This role has been especially debated when a Missouri couple divorces or the child of the grandparent passes away. However, a debate is brewing in another state about whether grandparents' rights ought to be curtailed. Indeed, the entire issue of access to grandchildren in divorce and other family circumstances remains a national concern.

The issue recently arose when a mother of a teenage boy sent him to live with her parents. The intent, according the woman, was to enroll the boy in a faith-based program run by her parents that is meant to get troubled teens back on a proper track. Subsequently, the grandparents petitioned a New Mexico court for custody of the Texas-resident child. Their petition was granted, and they also were granted an award of child support for the boy.

After being awarded custody of the child, however, the grandparents' program was investigated for allegations of improper conduct by state officials. Those allegations led the grandparents to return all of the children enrolled in their program back to their families. However, the grandparents continued to maintain custody of their grandchild. It was also discovered then that the grandparents had never enrolled their grandchild in the program they ran -- the reason the boy's mother sent him to live with his grandparents in the first place.

Grandparents' rights laws are designed to ensure that they are allowed to exercise meaningful contact with their grandchildren. These laws take into account the special bond that many grandparents have with their children. Although grandparents' rights are fashioned in a way to serve the best interests of the children, the extent of these rights remains a hot topic for litigation across Missouri and the country.

As grandparents in our state continue to seek access to their grandchildren, they will likely remain interested in the national debate, particularly as it relates to their pursuit of a meaningful relationship with their children's offspring.

Source: KCBD-TV, "Critics: Grandparent access law threatens parental rights," Natasha Sweatte and James Clark, Aug. 27, 2012

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