Friday, February 05, 2016

Stuard v. Stuard (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 5, 2016)

I'm looking at the caption of the case.  "Stuard v. Stuard".  Divorce case, I assume.

Except it's Jeffrey Stuard v. Matthew Stuard.  No biggie.  Gay divorce case.


Not a family law case at all, then.  Brothers fighting over a will.  Something like that.

Nope.  It's a family law case.  Child custody, even.

It's a case where the grandparents are seeking visitation of their grandchild over the objection of the parents of the child.

Which you see sometimes.

But this case is different.  Because the usual case involves unfit parents.  Whereas here, everyone agrees that the parents are totally fit.  Raising their kid just fine.  Simply don't want the paternal grandparents in the picture.

Okay, then.

My first thought is that I'm fine with the concept.  Grandparents have a connection.  We're talking about the best interests of the child.

Then I read the facts of the case.  The first eight pages or so.  And wow.

I know the Court of Appeal's opinion (rightly) recites the facts in the light most favorable to the party that prevailed below -- in this case, the grandparents.  But as I read the facts, I totally get why the trial court wants the grandparents to be around.  They were totally involved in raising this little kid.  They lived with the parents and were, essentially, the primary caregiver for the kid.  And the dispute about visitation basically arose when the father -- allegedly -- started on ADHD drugs, with a resulting change in personality, which eventually led to the grandparents kicking the father out of the house.  An event that arose the father's ire and (allegedly) led to his decision to tell the grandparents that they'd never see their "golden granddaughter" again.

Plus, the child wants to see her grandparents, and wonders why she can't.

Geeze.  That makes me even more desirous of letting the grandparents visit.  I mean, seriously.  Let the grandparents and grandchild have a relationship, for goodness sake.

So as I'm reading the opinion, I'm on board for the trial court granting visitation.  And the Court of Appeal tells me early on that they're affirming, so I'm cool with that.

But then I get to the actual remedy section.  I was thinking that the grandparents would get like two four-hour visits every month or so.  But here's what they actually get:

"Jeff and Cindy [the grandparents] may have Riley [the grandchild] once a week during a weekday overnight visit and one overnight weekend visit per month. Jeff and Cindy may take Riley on a seven-day vacation each summer and have an overnight visit with her around Thanksgiving and Christmas."

Whoa!!  Overnight visits?!  And take someone else's child on a seven-day vacation every year?!


I'm not entirely sure why, but for me, that ups the ante here.  Substantially.  To reiterate:  These are not unfit parents.  At all.  The parents -- both of them -- simply have decided that they don't want the grandparents in their lives.  Now, I'm okay with saying that's not an absolute, and that, on the state of the evidence here, it'd be in the best interests of the kid -- and permissible -- to let the grandparents see and have reasonable visitation with her.

But taking a kid out of a fit home of her parents and letting someone else have them for overnight visits?  And taking the kid away for a full week merely because we think that that'll be "good for them"?

Wow.  I don't know.  Emotionally, that just seems different to me.  I imagine the state taking away one of my own children for a full week because they allegedly know better than I do what's good for them and say to myself:  "Hell no."  A full week?!  Wow.

Can I give a rational explanation why visitation for four hours on an afternoon seems different to me than overnight visits and even more visit from a full week vacation?  No.  Not really.  I totally get the argument that this is merely a quantitative, rather than qualitative, difference.  And concede that I can't readily define the line between how much it's "okay" to take a kid away from fit parents and when it suddenly becomes not okay.

But there's nonetheless still a huge part of me that says there's a line.  I may not be able to draw a definite line between a dude with a few straggly hairs and a guy with a full beard, either.  But there's nonetheless a difference.  One's got a few hairs, and the other has a beard.  Even though I can't draw a definite line their either.

The Court of Appeal here doesn't seem to have been asked to resolve when taking away a child from his fit parents is "too much"; instead, the parents' argument was a more categorical one, and focused on the claim that since they were fit, their kid couldn't have been taken away from them at all.  As I said before, with respect to that issue, I'm somewhat sympathetic to the Court of Appeal's holding.

But there's nonetheless a line here.  At least emotionally.  At least for me.  And maybe as a matter of (admittedly imprecise) law.

And I wonder if that line wasn't, in fact, crossed here.

So in an appropriate case, I wonder whether the Court of Appeal might consider this issue.  As well as think deeply about it.

'Cause I'm not down with the state taking away my kid for a week-long vacation for his own good.

Even if it's objectively "right".