Major v. Maguire

Plaintiffs-grandparents filed an action under N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1 in the Family Part, seeking an order compelling defendant-mother to allow them periodic visits with their granddaughter. The trial court determined that in their complaint, supplemented by their testimony, plaintiffs failed to present a prima facie showing that the child would be harmed unless visitation were ordered. It found that plaintiffs had improperly instituted litigation before defendant had denied visitation with finality, and dismissed the complaint. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court's determination and remanded for reevaluation of the sufficiency of plaintiffs' complaint. In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court centered on the procedures by which a Family Part judge determines whether a grandparent has made a prima facie showing of harm to the child sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, and manages the case if it continues beyond the pleading stage. The Supreme Court held that in order to overcome the presumption of parental autonomy, grandparents who bring visitation actions must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of his or her application would result in harm to the child. If the grandparent meets that burden, the presumption in favor of parental decision-making is overcome, and the court sets a visitation schedule in the best interests of the child. In this case, plaintiffs alleged in detail their involvement in their granddaughter's life prior to the death of their son (the child's father) and contended on that basis that their alienation from the child caused her harm. The trial court should have denied defendant's motion to dismiss and given plaintiffs the opportunity to satisfy their burden to prove harm. View "Major v. Maguire" on Justia Law