Bill would expand child visitation provisions

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 6 on a bill that would expand grandparent-child visitation provisions.

Currently, a grandparent may petition for visitation rights only if the:
• child’s parents are deceased;
• marriage of the child’s parents has been dissolved or a petition for dissolution has been filed; or
• parents have never been married but paternity has been established.

LB124, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would allow court-ordered visitation rights for a grandparent if he or she has made prior reasonable efforts to have visitation with a minor child, but the child’s parents have refused such visitation. The court would be allowed to consider the potential relationship between the grandparents and grandchild.

Lautenbaugh said the courts currently favor situations in which a child’s parents are unmarried. Grandparent visitation rights are important regardless of the parents’ marital status and should be given consideration by the courts, he said.

Dennis Lee, an attorney in Omaha and guardian ad litem, testified in support of the bill. Grandparents who want to see their grandchildren have very limited legal remedies, he said, so the bill would allow them an opportunity to seek visitation rights.

Mark Intermill, representing AARP Nebraska, also testified in support, saying that grandparents have positive impacts on their grandchildren. Children who experience unfortunate family circumstances could have more positive experiences if a relationship with their grandparents was established, he said.

Shannon Saltzman, a father who lives in Omaha, testified in opposition to the bill. Some grandparents are estranged from their adult children due to abuse, he said, and parents do not want such abuse reoccurring with their own children.

Robert Sanford, representing the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, also testified in opposition. The bill fundamentally changes current law by allowing the decision of intact families to be called into question, he said. This could be unconstitutional and a violation of the parents’ fundamental rights to the care, custody and control of their children, he added.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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