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Maine court rejects challenge to grandparent visitation statute.

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine held that the state's grandparent visitation act did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment where grandparents petitioning for visitation of their grandchildren had acted as the children's parents for a significant period of time.

The act allows grandparents to petition for visitation if they have a "sufficient existing relationship" with their grandchildren. (Rideout v. Riendeau, 761 A.2d 291 (Me. 2000).)

Rose and Chesley Rideout wanted to visit their three grandchildren against the wishes of the children's parents, Heaven-Marie Riendeau and Jeffrey Riendeau. The Rideouts had acted as the children's parents for many years. When they petitioned for visitation under the act, the trial court granted the Riendeaus' motion to dismiss, ruling the act violated their due process rights.

Vacating, the state high court determined that strict scrutiny was the appropriate level of review for assessing the statute's constitutionality because the act allows state interference with parents' fundamental liberty interest in making decisions about their children. Under strict scrutiny, the state must show that its actions are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

Applying this level of review, the court held that where, as here, a grandparent has functioned as a parent, the state has a compelling interest in providing a forum in which the grandparent may seek continuing contact with the child. "This interest springs ... from the child's significant need to be assured that he or she will not unnecessarily lose contact with a grandparent who has been a parent to that child," Justice Leigh Saufley wrote.

Three provisions

The court then considered whether the statute is narrowly tailored to serve this interest. The court said this requirement was met because the act had three provisions that protect against unwarranted intrusions into an intact family's life.

First, grandparents must show standing before they may litigate their claim. The court said this requirement protects against the expense, stress, and pain of litigation until the grandparents have convinced the court that they may pursue visits under the act.

Second, the court must consider parents' objection to visitation. This requirement "gives life to the presumption that the parents are acting in the best interests of their child," Saufley wrote.

Finally, the court cannot grant visitation if doing so would significantly interfere with the parent-child relationship.

Consequently, the court held, the act may be applied here without violating the parents' constitutional rights.

The court remanded the case for the trial court to determine the appropriateness of visitation.
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Author:Levy, Stephanie
Geographic Code:1U1ME
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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