Legislature(1993 - 1994)
04/11/1994 01:55 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CHAIRMAN RIEGER introduced SB 21 (MISC. GRANDPARENT VISITATION RIGHTS) as the next order of business before the committee. SENATOR DONLEY explained that Alaska is one of the few states that does not have a provision giving grandparents standing for asking the court for visitation rights of their grandchildren. He noted that the best interest of the child would still be the overriding factor in this matter. SHERRIE GOLL, Alaska Women's Lobby, stated that the Alaska Women's Lobby is neither in support nor opposition to SB 21. She expressed concern with Section 4 of the bill. She urged the committee to consider eliminating Section 4. She explained that Sections 3 and 4 address disollutions which are no fault divorces; both parents have agreed on everything. She noted that several years ago legislation specified that there would be heightened scrutiny when children were involved. There would be written agreements which clarifying the agreements between the two parties and any changes to the agreement would need to be signed off on by both parties which is encompassed in AS 25.24.220(g). She pointed out that SB 21 in Section 4 states "Notwithstanding AS 25.24.220(g)" which would allow the court, only in this situation, to insert grandparents' visitation rights without both parties agreeing to that decision. Ms. Goll said that Senator Donley agreed to the deletion of Section 4, if the court still retained the ability to recommend that a grandparent could be included in visitation. She explained that if the judge felt they knew better than the parents regarding whether or not another party could have visitation rights then the judge could do as in other aspects of the settlement. The judge could not grant the disollution because it was not a fair and just situation which is addressed in Section 3. She pointed out that Section 3 includes written agreements and that the " court shall also consider whether the agreement should include visitation by grandparents and other persons; " which seems adequate. If the court says that someone should be included in visitation and the parents cannot reach an agreement to sign off on that recommendation, then there should be discussion in mediation or return with a contested divorce. She stated that it should not be the sole reason a judge could insert something in a disollution which is at odds with the written agreement and the parties do not sign off on. CHAIRMAN RIEGER did not realize that a disollution could take place if children were involved. SHERRIE GOLL said yes a disollution can take place when children are involved. The idea was to have heightened scrutiny when children were involved. Number 153 SENATOR SHARP asked if page 2, Section 3, paragraph 2 would allow a judge, even when the spouses had a written agreement, to consider adding grandparents visitation at the time of the disollution or divorce without necessitating another court proceeding by the grandparents. SHERRIE GOLL agreed that Senator Sharp's assessment was correct. In that instance, if there was a change in their written agreements then both parties would need to sign off on that change therefore, there is no need for Section 4. SENATOR SHARP asked if the judge could invoke visitation rights of another person if such consideration was brought up by the court and one or both spouses refused to sign off on that. SHERRIE GOLL believed that if the spouses refused a change which the courts thought necessary, the court would say that the disollution was not an equitable situation. The spouses would have to return when they had a fair and just disollution. SENATOR DONLEY stated that he had a draft amendment coming. He recommended that if the committee felt Section 4 was a problem then it should be deleted. Then he would work with the drafters to make sure everything was covered. SENATOR ELLIS moved to delete Section 4 of SB 21. SENATOR SHARP objected. SENATOR SHARP did not believe that the court would be able to order that if either or both parents did not agree. He expressed concern that such a situation could develop during this time when animosity tends to run high between the families. He did not want another court process and inquired as to how fair the court would be to amending the agreement to allow grandparents visitation if Section 4 was eliminated. CHAIRMAN RIEGER said that the grandparents would legally have the same standing as the parents. Without SB 21, the parents must agree on visitation before the order. SENATOR DONLEY pointed out that the grandparents do not have the same standing because they cannot agree or disagree to the disollution or its terms. SB 21 gives grandparents standing, the legal ability to ask for help from the court which currently is not allowed. He explained that Ms. Goll's concern refers to a mutual disollution that does not address the concerns of a grandparent. If the grandparent comes to the court, what power would the court have in such situations. He stated that Ms. Goll's position was that the court should say that there is not a proper disollution, while keeping the best interest of the child in mind. Without a proper disollution, the parties must either return with a proper disollution or go through a formal proceeding. He indicated that was different from SB 21, Section 4 would allow the court to agree to a disollution and add grandparent visitation to the disollution. He said that Ms. Goll was suggesting that such court authority should be eliminated while maintaining the authority to reject the disollution when it does not address the grandparents visitation, if that is in the best interest of the child. Number 243 SENATOR SHARP said that only helps if the grandparents are in the vicinity when and where the disollution occurs. In many instances, the grandparents are not in the same area and this becomes an issue later. Section 4 seems to allow grandparents the ability to petition the court to re-open the disollution which would be eliminated if Section 4 is deleted. SHERRIE GOLL pointed out that anger would more likely happen during a divorce than a mutual disollution. A disollutionment hearing is very brief which is why the law specifies heightened scrutiny when children are involved. She felt that in a disollution where one spouse objects to the visitation from another individual, it would be best for the judge to send the parties to work it out or not work it out. This process could bring further information to the proceedings regarding the objection. She did not believe that Section 4 would allow something to happen after the disollution. Section 4 addresses when the decree of disollution is being ordered, while Section 3 gives grandparents the same standing in disollutions and divorces to come back later. SENATOR SHARP felt that Section 4 did allow grandparents to petition after the disollution which could offer additional information that was not present at the time of disollution. Senator Sharp removed his objection. SENATOR SALO agreed that Section 4 should be removed. She expressed concern that during a disollution not enough time may be spent determining the best interest of the child. She pointed out that in a disollution there would be minimal information regarding the best interest of the child. The people involved rather than the judge would be more likely to have the necessary information to determine the best interest of the child. SENATOR LEMAN objected to the removal of Section 4. Upon a hand vote on the amendment to remove Section 4 of SB 21, Senators Rieger, Ellis and Salo voted "Yea" while Senators Sharp, Leman and Miller voted "Nay." The motion failed. SENATOR ELLIS moved SB 21 out of committee with individual recommendations. Hearing no objection, it was so ordered.