Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

Appeals Court Rules That Grandparent Visits Are Excessive

Loving grandparents are of immeasurable value to the healthy development of a child and their involvement is usually welcomed by mother and father alike, until there is a divorce or death that fractures the family unit. At these times, the grandparents may see their once robust relationship with their grandkids pared back as the parent or parents begin life anew with new mates and/or in new locales.

                                                                 

Recognizing the importance of grandparents, Missouri law empowers local courts to grant them “reasonable visitation rights” when these arrangements cannot be worked out by the parties themselves. However, balancing the rights of grandparents with the rights of the parent or parents can be a delicate and sometimes painful effort as a recent case amply illustrates.    

 

In May of this year, the Western District of Missouri’s Court of Appeals struck down a lower court decision that had awarded maternal grandparents monthly visits with their grandchildren as well as a week-long visit each summer, saying the visits were “excessive”, violating the standard of “minimal intrusion on the family relationship”.

                              

The case’s principals are Don & Mary Shemwell, the grandparents, Karen Arni, their daughter, and her two boys. In 1997, when the boys were aged 5 and 2, Mrs. Arni’s husband and the boys’ father died. At the time all lived in Kentucky and, following the husband’s death, the Shemwells took the daughter and her two boys into their home and cared for the boys while the daughter worked. Subsequently, the grandparents sheltered the daughter and the boys in a nearby rental home they owned. Mr. Shemwell assumed the role of the boy’s father, teaching them how to ride a bike, play ball and hunt. This arrangement continued for 6 years.

 

In 2003, the daughter married her current husband and the mother, boys and step dad all moved to Missouri, which is what brought the case into our courts.

 

Initially, the Shemwells were allowed visits on an unrestricted basis until Mrs. Arni concluded that they were disrupting family life in Missouri. After that the Shemwells were only to visit when invited. But, when the Shemwells heard nothing from the mother during Christmas, they traveled to the Arni home uninvited. This led to a confrontation and a more structured schedule. However, when the boys returned from an Easter visit in 2004 displaying negative attitudes toward mom, that’s when Mrs. Arni cut off all contact.

 

When mediation failed to resolve the dispute, the grandparents went to court. The trial court granted the Shemwells one visit a month on the third weekend from 9:00 Saturday morning to 5:00 Sunday evening, a week-long visit in July, and one 15-minute telephone call each week.

 

That prompted Mrs. Arni’s appeal in which she claimed the frequency of the visits violated her constitutional rights. She argued that the court provided a schedule that “infringes upon her parental rights to raise her sons” and the Appeals Court agreed, sending the case back to the trial court to set up a new schedule.