Intrusive mother-in-law may have a case under grandparents’ rights
Q My wife and I have been divorced for three years. We have two children. In a final judgment entered by a judge after a trial, a typical every other weekend schedule for me having the children was ordered.
A month ago, unfortunately, my former wife was killed in a traffic accident on I-95 near Stuart. My mother-in-law immediately moved into my old house with the kids, and took over. She barely lets me see the children.
I live with a girlfriend. We have no plans to marry. We live in a three-bedroom rental. My former mother-in-law says she will not let me have the children, even for visitation, although the final judgment in our case outlines a visitation plan. While she was alive, my ex-wife let me have the visitation that was in the judgment.
The mother-in-law has filed some legal papers, claiming that she should be given the children on a full time basis. She also says that I should only have supervised visitation.
She claims I am a danger to my children because I am a diagnosed alcoholic, and live with my girlfriend, in a neighborhood that is not a good as my old neighborhood. My lawyer claims that she may have a case. What do you think?
A: Under a Florida Supreme Court decision of many years ago, grandparent’s rights granted by Florida statutes were held to be unconstitutional. Those statutes gave grandparents independent rights to visitation with their grandchildren, whether or not the parents were happily married, divorced, or going through a divorce.
The Florida Court followed legal precedent established by the United State Supreme Court, which held that a parent’s rights to a parental relationship with their children had a constitution basis, which superseded the rights of any other relative. However, these rights are not without a limit.
In order for your mother-in–law to establish the rights that she seeks, she would have to prove a very substantial likelihood that you had abandoned your children or you would be a danger to your children, and that your rights as a parent would have to be removed. Evidence would have to establish that your parenting would put the children in significant and real danger.
The level of proof to terminate parental rights is significant and not often invoked by Florida courts in situations where you have had a continuing relationship with the children. More importantly, you were recently approved for visitation by a Florida Circuit Court judge in a contested dissolution of marriage case.
It is unlikely that unless you have done something to seriously put your children in great danger, after the final dissolution judgment, that another circuit judge would terminate your parental rights and turn the children over to your mother-in-law. Hopefully, she has a reasonable lawyer. It probably would be beneficial for your children to have a relationship with their grieving grandmother, and you should consider allowing such a relationship, even though you do not have to.