Palmer v. Burnett, 2011-CA-002097-ME
Issue: Grandparent visitation
Maternal Biological Grandmother appealed FC’s order dismissing her motion for grandparent visitation on the basis that she lacked standing.
In 1990, Michelle voluntarily relinquished her parental rights to Kristen and Michelle’s mother, Kristen’s biological grandmother, adopted Kristen. In 2004, Kristen gave birth to Alexis. Despite termination of Michelle’s parental rights to Kristen, Michelle and her husband developed a close relationship with Alexis. Alexis even resided with them for several months. However, in 2010, Michelle and her husband obtained DVOs against Kristen on the basis that she threatened to kill them. Kristen and Alexis’ father then refused to allow Michelle and her husband to have contact with Alexis. Michelle and her husband initiated a custody action, asserting standing as de facto custodians. FC dismissed the custody action, finding that Michelle and her husband had not been Alexis’ primary caregivers for at least one year prior to filing the petition as required under KRS 403.270. Michelle and her husband then filed a grandparent visitation action, which FC also dismissed, finding that due to the termination of Michelle’s parental rights to Kristen, she was not legally Alexis’ grandmother (and her husband, lacking even a biological relationship to Alexis, was also not a legal grandparent.) However, FC implored CA to overturn its finding regarding standing, finding that a continued relationship with Michelle and her husband was in Alexis’ best interests. Michelle and her husband appealed, although no argument was presented on husband’s behalf.
CA noted that termination of parental rights constitutes a permanent severance of the parent-child relationship—it is as if the parents of a child suddenly died, as there is no longer a legal right to contact between the parents and the child. All parental rights are then vested in the adoptive parent. Thus, Michelle’s termination of her parental rights to Kristen included termination of a future right to a relationship with Alexis, and Kristen and Michelle became sisters for legal purposes, meaning Michelle is legally considered Alexis’ aunt. As there is no statutory protection for visitation rights of aunts and uncles, Michelle had no standing to pursue visitation of Alexis.