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‘Spiteful’ dad can’t block grandparent visitation

A father may have good reasons to keep his children from seeing their grandmother. But a California court decided yesterday that one dad couldn’t wield the constitutional rights of a fit parent in a petty effort to settle a personal score.

Troxel commands the courts to presume that the surviving parent’s objection to grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the children,” said the California Court of Appeal in Hoag v. Diedjomahor. “However, this does not mean that the surviving parent is free to use the denial of visitation as Big Bertha in his or her personal war with the grandparent.” 

Melville Diedjomahor’s two daughters were born during his rocky four-year marriage with Kristen Hoag. The couple was in the process of getting a divorce when Kristen died suddenly in 2009 as a result of previously undiagnosed epilepsy. 

Shannon Hoag, Kristen’s mother, had been a member of the household from the beginning of the marriage, often acting as a third parent to her grandchildren. So when Kristen died, Shannon filed for guardianship, claiming that Melville was an unfit father.

Naturally, this ruffled Melville’s feathers. So when he succeeded in fending off Shannon’s guardianship petition, he was in no mood to allow his two daughters to have visitation with their grandmother.

And Melville had a strong hand to play because, under the landmark case of Troxel v. Granville, his wishes in this regard were presumed to be in the best interest of his children.

But the problem with Melville’s opposition to Shannon’s petition for grandparent visitation was that, other than spite, there was no reason to deny his children from having regular contact with their grandmother.

Besides, the kids loved their grandma.

The trial court saw this plain as day and granted Shannon visitation with her granddaughters for three hours every Wednesday evening and 48 hours every other weekend, plus twice weekly  phone calls.

Monday, the California Court of Appeal agreed that Shannon had overcome the Troxel presumption necessary to override Melville’s objections to grandparent visitation.

The court observed that Melville “testified that he was contesting visitation because [the grandmother] had breached his trust by trying to take the children away from him, and she had been ‘disrespectful’ to him. We hasten to add that this is a completely understandable reaction. Nevertheless, it is not based on the best interest of the children. To the contrary, it punishes the children for the sins of the grandmother. …

“The trial court found that the father’s objections to visitation did not arise out of a genuine concern for the best interest of the children. Thus, the constitutionally established presumption that he was acting in the best interest of the children was overcome.”

– Pat Murphy

patrick.murphy@lawyersusaonline.com

One comment

  1. Another interesting aspect of this case is its discussion of denial of visitation versus limitation of visitation. The court assumes without deciding that the parent’s complete denial of visitation would not suffice to overcome the presumption favoring the parent’s decisions — and gives some very persuasive analysis in support of that view.

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