Legislature(1993 - 1994)

04/11/1994 01:55 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 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              
 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.                    

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