Law Lessons from PATRICIA L. KOEPPEL VS. JUSTIN M. PIERSON, App. Div., A-3519-11T1, May 14, 2013:
This case concerns the Grandparent Visitation statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, as construed by Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84, 112-18 (2003). In Moriarty, our Supreme Court noted that an order compelling a parent to permit a child to visit a grandparent implicated the parent’s fundamental “right to family autonomy and privacy.” Id. at 116. Accordingly, there is a presumption favoring deference to a fit parent’s choice about visitation which must be overcome before the court may enter an order requiring visitation with grandparents as being in the child’s best interest. Id. at 116-17. A grandparent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence “exceptional circumstances” warranting the best interest inference. Ibid. A grandparent may satisfy the burden and gain entitlement to visitation against the wishes of a fit parent by showing that the “visitation is necessary to avoid harm to the child.” Id. at 117. Alternatively, a grandparent may demonstrate that he or she has become a psychological parent to the child and stands in the shoes of a parent. Id. at 114-115, 116 n.3.
A biological parent and a grandparent with psychological parent status “stand in parity to one another.” Tortorice v. Vanartsdalen, 422 N.J. Super. 242, 252 (App. Div. 2011), certif. denied, 209 N.J. 233 (2012). In order to show that a party has a psychological parent relationship with a child, that party
must prove four elements: (1) that the biological or adoptive parent consented to, and fostered, the petitioner’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child; (2) that the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household; (3) that the petitioner assumed the obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development, including contributing towards the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation [a petitioner's contribution to a child's support need not be monetary]; and (4) that the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.
[V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200, 223 (2000) (quoting In re Custody of H.S.H.-K., 193 Wis. 2d 649, 658, 533 N.W.2d 419, 421 (1995)).]
These determinations are fact sensitive. Id. at 223 n.6.
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