Supreme Court of Alaska (2022)
In Husby v. Monegan, 517 P.3d 20 (Alaska 2022), the supreme court held that a statute allowing modification of visitation orders applies to grandparents and that the parental preference rule does not apply when a grandparent has already been granted visitation. (Id. at 23). After a mother gave birth to her child, the child’s maternal grandparents provided childcare and were highly involved with the child for two and a half years. (Id.). The mother married, and the grandparents came to a mediated agreement with the newly married couple that the grandparents would receive visitation one weekend each month and could contact the child by phone and mail as much as they wished. (Id.). The couple and child moved to Alaska from Oregon five years later. (Id.). The grandparents continued to visit for about a year and a half, until the couple filed to terminate the grandparents’ visitation rights. (Id.). The superior court granted the request, finding that the grandfather’s alleged history of abuse and patterns of manipulative behavior were detrimental to the child. (Id. at 25). On review, the supreme court held that its courts should apply the state statute which sets standards for modification of visitation orders to grandparents, even though the statutory text only mentions parents. (Id. at 26). Under this statute, those filing to terminate visitation must show a substantial change in circumstances. (Id.). An out-of-state move may qualify as a substantial change, but here the superior court relied on allegations of abuse and did not hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the veracity of the claims. (Id. at 29–30). The court also held that deference to parental preference does not apply when modifying grandparents’ rights if the preference was applied to the initial visitation order. (Id. at 28). Reversing and remanding to the superior court for an evidentiary hearing, the supreme court held that the statute allowing modification of visitation orders applies to grandparents, and that the parental preference rule does not apply when a grandparent has already been granted visitation. (Id. at 23, 30).