Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Utah?

Grandparents Rights: this is such a troubling issue in Utah.  With the recent Utah Supreme Court Decision (filed September 16, 2015), Grandparents have little recourse to establish visitation with their grandchildren in Utah Courts.  See Jones v. Jones, 359 P.3d 603 (Utah 2015).  Basically, the Utah Supreme Court is upholding a parent’s fundamental right to make decisions on behalf of their children.  The issue becomes difficult when a parent willingly chooses to “cut off” a relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild.  This is such a tragic situation, but the Utah Court is holding that a grandparent must establish a “legally sufficient basis for an order of visitation.”   However, under this new Court ruling, establishing a legally sufficient basis is nearly impossible for grandparents.

This grandparents rights issue really stems from the monumental constitutional case, Troxel v. Granville.  In 2000, this United States Supreme Court Troxel case has forever changed the future rights of grandparents.   In Troxel, the Court outlined factors that the Court could consider to be relevant in deciding whether grandparents have rebutted the presumption in favor of the parent’s decision regarding grandparent’s visitation.  All across the United States, individual state legislatures passed grandparents rights statutes, using Troxel as their guide.  Utah passed a Grandparents Visitation statute using the guidelines outline in Troxel.

However, this new Utah Supreme Court decision is stating that Troxel did not show the Utah court how to balance or weigh the factors.  Thus, the Utah Supreme Court added more analysis to the original Troxel case, because the Utah Supreme Court found that “the Troxel approach paves a path for uncertainty.”

Basically, under this new opinion, a grandparent must present concrete proof of harm resulting from the loss of a substantial relationship with a grandparent, as where the grandparent acted as the grandchild’s custodian or caregiver.  If the grandparent cannot prove this statutory factor, the case will be dismissed.

While this may seem simple on its face, it is almost impossible to prove that type of substantial harm in the Utah courts.  What this means, most grandparents will not prevail in a grandparents rights case as the law stands today in Utah.  This needs to change.

At Melanie Cook Law, we care about the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.  We are interested in creating a grandparents rights movement in Utah.  If you are interesting in participating in a movement for change, please join us and contact this grandparent’s rights attorney, Melanie Cook.

Fox 13 Article Written by Ben Winslow on Jones v. Jones opinion

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What does it mean to “serve” the other party?

Once we meet and discuss the issues of your case, we will draft a formal Petition.  You may have a Petition for Divorce, or a Petition for Separate Maintenance, or a Petition for Parentage, or a Grandparents Rights Petition.  The type of Petition (or Complaint) will depend on your specific type of case.

Once we finish the Petition, the next step is to “serve” the other party with that paperwork.   This is usually done by a Sheriff or a private individual (over the age of 18), who is not part of your case.  Generally, a Summons will be served with the Petition.  Most of the time, the paperwork is served upon the other party in person.  Service of the paperwork can take place at a person’s residence or work, or anywhere where the other party is located.  Personal service can even take place at the local Walmart, if that is where the other party is shopping at the time of service.

This “service” (also called “service of process”) is required by the Court to prove that a party has notice of the Petition and the beginning of a lawsuit.  Service of process allows the other party to respond to the Petition against him/her.

Once the service of process has been effected upon the other party, the Sheriff or process server will file a “Return of Service” or an “Affidavit of Service” with the Court.  The “Return of Service” will indicate the date, time and documents that were served upon the other person.

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