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New bill aims to help Texas grandparents with visitation

Sometimes, a divorce doesn't just disrupt a single household. Instead, it can tear apart a family and prevent grandparents from continuing to enjoy a healthy relationship with their grandchildren.

A new proposal before the state's lawmakers hopes to change that. House Bill 575, which was initiated by Representative Harold Dutton Jr., is designed to help what supporters call "estranged in-laws" gain access to their grandchildren following the divorce of the children's parents.

Essentially, the bill would broaden the circumstances under which a grandparent could sue for legal visitation rights. It would also lower the standard of proof that a grandparent has to provide in court in order to justify the court's action.

Currently, in order to get legal visitation rights with a grandchild, one of the child's parents must be mentally incompetent, incarcerated, deceased or otherwise estranged from the child's life. In addition, the grandparent has to somehow prove that a child would suffer -- mentally or physically -- if the visitation is denied. That proof has to be in the form of expert testimony, such as from a doctor or psychologist -- which can be difficult and costly to obtain.

The new law would broaden the rights of grandparents to seek visitation. Parents wouldn't necessarily have to be divorced or estranged in order for grandparents to sue to see their grandchildren. In addition, testimony regarding the child's well-being could come from relatives or neighbors instead of only "expert" sources. That part of the bill, in particular, would make it much easier for grandparents affected by the divorce of their grandchildren's parents to retain the relationships they've built with their grandchildren -- even if the parents object for some reason.

Naturally, there's some opposition to the bill. Some people feel that it allows grandparents to overstep their boundaries -- especially if they have the financial means to legally challenge a parent's decision to limit their contact with the kids.

It's important to remember that all visitation and custody decisions are based on what's in the best interest of the children. If you're concerned about your grandchild's situation, talk to an attorney today about the problems you're facing.

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