By Richard D. Ralls
The Kansas City Star
“Over the river and thru the wood, to grandfather’s house we go.”
This old holiday song can stir fond family memories as families gather and celebrate the season.
Life is not always so merry. Fractures can and do occur within a family. When a breakup occurs, separating or divorcing parents face many challenges, including the role, if any, of grandparents. It does not take long to realize that grandparent contact may be virtually extinguished--without fault or explanation--when the family unit disbands.
The good news is that both Missouri and Kansas have laws that recognize situations where a court can order independent grandparent rights. Kansas grants visitation rights to grandparents where the court finds that visitation is in the child’s best interest and where a substantial relationship between child and grandparent already exists. The two elements are important to keep in mind by grandparents who anticipate that a family relationship may result in divorce or separation. First, the grandparent in a Kansas case has to have an existing substantial relationship with the child, not a relationship that a grandparent initiates or seeks to initiate after the breakup. Second, the visitation has to be in the child’s best interest, meaning simply that grandparent contact is good for the child. The burden is on the grandparent to prove both elements.
In Missouri the courts can grant grandparent visitation in circumstances where one parent is deceased and the surviving parent denies the grandparent reasonable visitation, or if the grandparent has been unreasonably denied visitation for more than 90 days. As in Kansas, the courts in Missouri require that the grandparent visitation be in the child’s best interest.
In either situation there are limitations to obtaining grandparent rights, and an interested party should contact a family law lawyer to determine his or her rights as a grandparent.
Grandparent rights are not intended to supersede those of the natural parent, and great deference is given to parents in deciding appropriate grandparent time. Grandparent time likely will never be what it once was prior to a family breakup. But the joy of grandparent and child visits does not have to disappear altogether.
By Richard D. Ralls
The Kansas City Star
Father’s Day approaches, and as a father of three nearly grown children I cherish the memories of all those years my wife and I spent at Little League games, swim meets and yes – even parent-teacher conferences. Yet as a lawyer practicing family law I am haunted by images of others not so fortunate…
Divorce is never easy for either party, but often it is the child who suffers the most. Divorced parents sometimes criticize the former spouse in the child’s presence, or use the child to send messages to the ex. Other times, a divorced parent may try to get the child to “spy” on their former spouse.
Think of what this does to the child – making him or her a pawn in the nasty game of divorce. These tactics unduly stress the child, who may develop psychological problems as a result of the constant warring of ex-spouses.
Divorced parents must set their differences aside and communicate directly and civilly with each other, leaving the child out of it. If that is not possible, communication should be through the attorneys or a neutral third party. Never through the child.
The marriage may be over, but shared parenthood is not. Communication should focus on parenting issues, not the toxins that destroyed the marriage. It goes without saying that the non-custodial parent should promptly and willingly pay child support, and that the custodial parent should facilitate the other parent’s visitation with grace. Withholding financial support or visitation in order to hurt the former spouse hurts the children more than it hurts the ex.
Marriage may not last, but good parenting must. For fathers – and mothers, too – that means putting the children above all else. Chances are that their own moms and dads did just that a generation earlier.
Richard D. Ralls practices family law with Ralls Law Firm, LLC.
Kansas City, MO (816) 421-4222
By Richard D. Ralls
The news is replete these days with Anna Nicole Smith and the paternity issues her death has raised. Coincidentally a story makes headlines locally about a Missouri court ruling that a Buchanan County man owes child support for a child that he did not father. That “father” faces prosecution, imprisonment and past and future support obligations because years ago he failed to protect his rights.
Anna Nicole’s accomplishments escape me. The lessons from her passing and the Buchanan County paternity case do not.
A mother can initiate child support proceedings through a state agency. No DNA testing is required to establish legal paternity if the man fails to contest the allegation of paternity. Once the administrative proceeding is completed the man’s fate may be sealed.
Calls come in routinely to family lawyers from men who have been named as the father of a child for support purposes but who swear that parentage is either in doubt or impossible. The call usually is triggered by the state trying to collect thousands of dollars in unpaid support. Because these men did not protect their rights when paternity was alleged they are declared to be fathers under the law.
Paternity and child support are an industry in the family law arena. Private paternity testing businesses flourish, while teams of government workers do nothing but handle child support establishment and collection matters. Arrearage cases come through our doors where the past due support amounts are so large that they cannot possibly be paid off before the father’s natural death.
Public policy favors children receiving the benefit of child support, as it should. But shouldn’t the mother and government agencies have greater responsibility for confirming parentage? Shouldn’t the man have a right to be relieved from paying child support and facing criminal prosecution if he is not in fact the father?
The lesson can be harsh and expensive for fathers--real or not--who fail to act. The “head in the sand approach” may be effective in responding to certain life situations, but not paternity.
Richard Ralls is a family lawyer in Kansas and Missouri.
913 236 7260
816 421 4222
Kansas (913) 236-7260
Missouri (816) 421-4222
Saturday & evening
6811 Shawnee Mission Parkway
Cloverleaf Building 1, Suite 306
Overland Park, Kansas 66202