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A Grand Decision – Grandparent Visitation Benefits Children

It is difficult to explain the type of bond that can develop between grandparent and grandchild when grandparents play an active role in the lives of their children’s children. It is nearly impossible to put into words this connection that is unlike any other for the individuals involved, and yet many grandparents and grandchildren have experienced this profound connection.

The grandparent/grandchild relationship is profound, in part, because it forms the connection between past and present– serving as a fundamental link between the history and future of a family. This link is especially critical when a parent is deceased, as in the case recently considered by the State Supreme Court.

The case, Moriarty v. Bradt, involved a child visitation dispute between a father and the parents of the children’s deceased mother: The father wanted the grandparents to have minimal visitation rights, the grandparents felt they deserved to have more time with the children so that they might maintain a more substantive relationship with them.

Attorneys for the grandparents (the Bradts) argued that the Bradts deserved the visitation they sought under New Jersey’s Grandparent Visitation Statute. Enacted in 1972, the Statute requires grandparents seeking visitation rights in cases where one or both parents of a minor child or children is deceased, divorced, or separated, to prove that denial of the requested visitation would result in harm to the child or children.

According to the Court’s opinion, Julia Bradt and Patrick Moriarty were married, had two children, and later divorced. Mr. Moriarty retained custody of the children, and Ms. Bradt maintained visitation rights, as did her parents, who continued to see the children on most weekends that the children saw their mother. When Ms. Bradt died in 1999, an already strained relationship between the children’s father and his ex-wife’s parents grew worse, leading to the lengthy court battle that ultimately ended in the Bradt’s favor.

The Bradts successfully proved to the Court that their grandchildren would be psychologically harmed through the limited schedule of visitation Mr. Moriarity had arranged between his children and their grandparents. The Court found that the children’s link to their mother through their grandparents was a vital part of their lives, one which outweighed Mr. Moriarity’s parental wishes in this case. I agree.

The right to parental autonomy is a fundamental right recognized by courts throughout the history of our State and our country. As a father of three daughters, I can appreciate Mr. Moriarty’s desire to raise his children in the way in which he sees fit. However, as a grandparent of five, I also appreciate the Bradts’ yearning to maintain meaningful relationships with their grandchildren–a nearly impossible endeavor under the severely limited visitation schedule requested by Mr. Moriarty.

In today’s world, there are far too many cases of child neglect and abandonment. Within our own State, we have been confronted recently with hundreds of cases involving children who have been severely harmed because their families could not, or would not, care for them. The situation involving Mr. Moriarty and the Bradts is not one of these cases. Their situation involves a dispute over who gets to care for children when several family members who love them, want to. This type of familial dispute is not unusual today, though in light of the many children who are without even one person in the whole world to care for them, a dispute over visitation rights between several loving parties seems to pale.

Mr. Moriarty’s children have been forced to deal with more in their young lives than many people will have to face in an entire lifetime–their parents’ divorce, their mother’s drug addiction and early death, and a lengthy visitation dispute among three people who seem to care about them very much. The visitation schedule upheld by the Court will enable the Bradts to maintain a level of care for their grandchildren which is typical of attentive grandparents. At the same time, maintaining the burden of proof on the Bradts preserves Mr. Moriarity’s parental autonomy.

It is comforting to know that the grandparent/grandchild relationship will be preserved through the Court’s decision. The Moriarty children should not have to lose their mother twice.

Senator Coniglio represents the 38th Legislative District, which includes parts of Bergen County. The Senator is Co-Chair of the Senate State Government Committee and is a member of the Senate Labor Committee.