Testimony heard on visitation bill

DENVER (AP) Bill Stein and his wife have filed a $2 million lawsuit against his son and daughter-in-law accusing them of intentionally inflicting emotional harm by not allowing him and his wife to see their grandchildren.

Stein said Monday he believed the lawsuit represented his only hope of reviving what used to be a close relationship with his grandchildren because under Colorado law, he does not have the legal standing necessary to ask a judge to order grandparent visitation rights.

The Colorado Springs man asked the House Health, Education, Welfare and Institutions Committee to approve Senate Bill 79 by Rep. Kay Alexander, R-Montrose, which would expand the ability of grandparents to make that sort of request.

The committee heard testimony on the bill but delayed a vote until Wednesday because one member had to leave the Capitol.

Alexander said under current law, grandparents can ask a court to order visitation rights only in cases involving divorce or a custody battle. Her bill would allow such a request if the grandchild has benefited from a relationship with the grandparent and the child's legal custodian has unreasonably denied visitation.

If a judge decides to consider the request, the grandparent would have to prove that denial of visitation would result in significant harm to the child, that visitation would not hurt the child's relationship with his or her legal custodian, and other criteria.

A judge also could order mediation.

Opponents said they were concerned with the subjective nature of the criteria and the potential to infringe on parents' rights.

''Sometimes it's best left to families to work out the problems rather than just aggravating the situation with a lawsuit,'' said Rep. Mark Cloer, R-Colorado Springs.

Stein said he understands such concerns, but said parents do not always know or do what is in their child's best interest.

''Each case is truly individual,'' he said. ''Without this law, we have nowhere else to turn.''

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