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.