WISE COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) — There is Virginia legislation that would allow grandparents to have visitation rights to their grandchildren if the parent is preventing them from seeing the child.
If it becomes law, Senate Bill 1325 would apply in situations like when the parent of the grandchild has died or is incapacitated.
News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun spoke with a southwest Virginia grandmother who explains why this bill is a necessity.
Dr. Paula Hill-Collins has been an advocate for people in the health care world but never thought she would have to be an advocate for her son and grandson.
The Wise County, Virginia grandmother is hoping SB 1325 will allow for her and her family to continue to play a role in her grandson’s life.
“People need to realize, children have a heart and children’s voices need to be heard,” Hill-Collins said.
Hill-Collins is counting down the days she and her family will have a chance to see their 5-year-old grandson.
“He would come to my house and he loved playing with our puppies and everything. Everything was, ‘My dad, my dad, my dad’s truck is bigger than yours. My dad’s trees are bigger than yours.’ He was in that stage where he loved and worshipped his dad,” Hill Collins explained.
She said the last time she saw her grandson was on December 23, 2019, which was one day before his father (Paula’s son), David Meade suffered from a fall and ultimately died a few weeks later.
Hill-Collins said the mother of her grandson has cut ties with the family since then.
The new bill stems from an June 5, 2000 Supreme Court ruling called Troxel v. Granville.
“The way the law exists before this bill is, basically, they had to show the highest level of evidence that the absence of a relationship with them would cause actual harm to the child or children and it was an incredibly high level of proof that no grandparents were ever able to prove,” Virginia State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, who represents Henrico County, said.
Siobhan’s Senate Bill 1325, which passed in the Senate and House on February 25 and 26 respectively, is an effort to not undermine parental authority but to force judges to consider grandparents.
“If you can show evidence that your child wanted you to have a relationship, either a letter that they wrote before or evidence of the relationship you had before they died, you can present that as evidence now,” Siobhan said.
Hill-Collins said, “He had lost his daddy and I honestly could not imagine losing my daddy and then losing all of my daddy’s family that we were close to. It’s not like we weren’t close-knit. He was with us the night of December 23rd and my son fell on December 24th.”
She explained she and the family have been in the courts fighting to have some time with the 5-year-old, knowing he is what is left of David’s legacy.
“My ex-husband and his daddy, Michael Meade, actually, we filed for visitation and she wouldn’t let us see the baby anymore. Here through all of our grief, we still wanted to make sure [our grandson] was taken care of,” Hill-Collins said.
“Here’s a little boy, who in a day and in a moment, he lost his dad and since that time has had no contact with his family. We’re just concerned that, does he feel like he’s been abandoned,” Adrian Collins, Paula’s husband who also has a law background, said.
He said the longterm separation can be detrimental to a child.
“We want and it’s our hope that to play some role in preserving children’s ancestry and roots get children that connection that they need. You know, even through this pandemic, there are a lot of experts that talk about separation anxiety and children that aren’t seeing grandparents or families are divided from each other,” Hill-Collins said.
“You know, we need to think, what is this doing to our child that we love,” Hill-Collins added.
The legislation now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam.