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