K.A.S. v. R.E.T., 2005 WL 3179763 (Fla. 2d DCA Nov 30, 2005) In the latest round in the battle by grandparents to obtain legal visitation rights with their grandchildren, the Second DCA held that guardians do not enjoy the same constitutional privacy rights natural parents enjoy regarding the care and custody of their children. As such, the constitutional privacy rights that have been the undoing of various legislative efforts to establish grandparent visitation rights in Florida simply do not apply. Bottom line, a Florida probate court has the legal authority to mandate grandparent visitations if such family contact is in the best interest of the ward. The Second DCA explained the rationale underpinning its decision as follows:
The probate court’s reliance on Sullivan and similar cases that have invalidated grandparent visitation statutes assumed that the appointment of the Ward’s maternal grandparents as the guardians of his person transferred to them the parents’ fundamental liberty interest to raise their children free from state interference in the absence of a compelling state interest. But the appointment of the Ward’s maternal grandparents as the guardians of his person did not bestow upon them the constitutional privacy interest that natural parents enjoy regarding the care and custody of their children. See M.G. v. R.V., 58 P.3d 1145, 1147 (Colo.Ct.App.2002); In re Joshua S., 260 Conn. 182, 796 A.2d 1141, 1155-57 (Conn.2002); Casper v. Bushman (In re Guardianship of Wemark), 525 N.W.2d 7, 9 (Iowa Ct.App.1994); Luby v. Da Silva (In re Brown), 153 Wash.2d 646, 105 P.3d 991, 994 (Wash.2005). Therefore, Sullivan and the other cases that address grandparent visitation statutes are not controlling here. Likewise, a stepparent, custodian, guardian, or other person standing in loco parentis to a child does not acquire all of the rights or assume all of the obligations of a natural parent. It follows that a guardian of the person of a minor does not have the exclusive right that a natural parent would have to determine what persons may visit the child. See Reynolds, 141 P.2d at 503; Casper, 525 N.W.2d at 9; Luby, 105 P.3d at 994. In this case, the Guardians of the Person enjoy the care and custody of the Ward not because of the natural bond between parent and child but, rather, by virtue of their appointment by the probate court. Because the Guardians of the Person function as an arm of the probate court, they are subject to its supervision and control in the best interests of the Ward concerning what persons may visit him. (Emphasis added)
As this 2003 AARP article makes clear, grandparent visitation rights have been hotly contested in various states. This opinion is sure to draw much attention from advocates on both sides of this debate.