Maryland statutes address the subject of grandparent visitation rights in a single sentence, which simply states that a court may grant "reasonable visitation" to a grandparent if it is in the best interests of the child. The statute does not provide any means of determining the best interests of the child, so justices were basically on their own. That all changed in the year 2000.
Effect of Troxel v. Granville
In 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in Troxel v. Granville.
This decision states that there is a presumption that fit parents make decisions that are in the best interests of their children. In order to win visitation with grandchildren, grandparents must overcome that presumption.
The first blow to grandparents in Maryland came quickly after Troxel. In the case of Brice v. Brice, also decided in 2000, paternal grandparents sued the mother of their grandchild, seeking increased visitation. An appeals court sided with the mother because she had not denied contact, only limited it, and because she had not been found unfit to make parenting decisions.
Shurupoff v. Vockroff was a 2002 case concerning a child custody battle between a father and the maternal grandparents. Although it concerned custody rather than visitation, the case is important because it reinforced the idea that a parent's decisions are presumed in the best interest of the child. In this case the court defined two ways that this presumption could be overcome.
One was by a showing of parental unfitness, and the other was by a showing of exceptional circumstances. This decision was handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the equivalent of a state supreme court.
Koshko v. Haining
The definitive case at this point in determining grandparent visitation rights is the 2007 case of Koshko v. Haining.
Grandparents who had helped raise a grandchild for three years were cut off by the child's mother. In order to stay aligned with the Troxel decision, the grandparents should have had to show that the mother was unfit to make this decision, but the Maryland law says nothing about fitness. For this reason, the Maryland statute was vulnerable to a constitutionality challenge.
The Maryland Court of Appeals found a solution by stating that the presumption that fit parents make proper decisions is "implicit" in the Maryland statute. The court further stated that in order for this presumption to be negated, there must be a finding of parental unfitness or "exceptional circumstances." The exceptional circumstances require a finding that a lack of grandparent visitation would have a detrimental effect upon the child. In other words, the grandparents must show that denial of visitation would harm the grandchild -- the so-called harm standard. Although the grandparents in the case had helped raise a grandchild for three years, that was not considered an exceptional situation. The grandparents did not meet the harm standard in the eyes of the court, so they lost their case.
Attempts to Change the Law
Recognizing that the Maryland statute is badly flawed, lawmakers introduced bills revising the statute in 2011, 1014, 2015 and 2016.
These bills would have codified the requirement that "exceptional circumstances" must exist before a parent's judgment can be overruled. Some versions have added that grandparent visitation should not interfere with the parent-child relationship. Thus far, the bills have failed to come out of committee.
See Maryland statute. Look for Section 9.102.
- See Also: How to Get Visitation Enforced