Divorce not only separates the nuclear family – father, mother, child – but it can have ramifications for the extended family as well. The grandparent/grandchild relationship is one that can often suffer from the dissolution of a marriage.
Since the 1970s, a number of states have passed laws recognizing grandparents’ rights in maintaining relationships with their grandchildren. The Grandparents’ Visitation Statute of New Jersey grants grandparents the right to seek visitation with their grandchildren in the State. (1)
In reviewing the grandparents’ application for visitation, courts take several things into consideration, including the grandparents’ relationship with that grandchild as well as with their relationship with their own child. Indications of abuse of any kind – emotional, sexual, physical – or indications of neglect will be weighed heavily by the courts when ruling on the visitation application.(2) Just how heavily such actions are weighed was evident in a recent Monmouth County case.
Last month a Superior Court judge denied a visitation request by the grandparents of a Tinton Falls boy.(3) The child, Sean Goldman, had been the object of an international custody battle that lasted five years. In 2004 Sean was taken by his mother, the late Bruna Bianchi, to her homeland of Brazil for what was to be a short visit. While there, however, Ms. Bianchi filed for divorce from her husband, David Goldman. In 2007 Ms. Bianchi remarried but died shortly thereafter. Her new husband filed in Brazil for custody of Sean, claiming that the child’s biological father had abandoned him. Meanwhile in the U.S., Mr. Goldman had been launching his own legal actions to bring his son back home.
The custody battle between Mr. Goldman and the boy’s stepfather and maternal grandparents won international attention. It took five years and help from some high-ranking U.S. officials before Mr. Goldman was allowed to bring his son back home in 2009.
Since then, Mr. Goldman had agreed to allow his ex-wife’s parents to visit their grandson under certain conditions, one being they drop all legal action in Brazil to regain custody of Sean. That legal action, along with the couple’s past actions to keep Sean from his biological father, weighed heavily in the Superior Court judge’s recent decision regarding the denial of grandparents’ visitation.(3) While New Jersey does recognize the rights of grandparents, the statute allows for visitation only when it is in the best interest of the child.(1)