Grandparents seek law granting visitation rights

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Elizabeth G. Cook
The charms on Miriam Preiser’s necklace stand for her 19 grandchildren, and she has tied red ribbons on three.
Those three represent the grandchildren Preiser hasn’t been able to visit since 2000, when her daughter divorced the children’s father and did not get visitation rights.
In effect, Preiser lost visitation rights, too.
Those three girls are young women in their teens now. Preiser missed their childhoods. But she wants to help other grandparents avoid going through the same kind of loss.
Preiser is president of Grandchildren and Grandparents for Visitation of North Carolina, a group she’s been active in for several years.
When the group holds its monthly meeting Saturday at Davie County Library in Mocksville, members will have a chance to talk about pending legislation and hopes for the future.
Last month, State Sen. Steve Goss of Boone introduced Senate Bill 342, which calls for a joint legislative study committee on grandparents’ visitation rights.
A similar bill has been filed in the House.
Goss says grandparents’ visitation is a touchy issue that he has seen come up in the legislature over and over. He’s also dealt with it as a Baptist minister and missionary to Japan. The problem is not unique to the United States, he says.
Goss hears from grandparents who want to be able to see their grandchildren but are kept away by parents. And he hears from parents who don’t want their own rights weakened.
Goss says he’s open-minded on the issue. “I want to tread carefully, ” he says.
Lawmakers need to look at every side of the issue to see if there is an answer that doesn’t tread on anyone’s rights, he says.
Lawmakers are focussed on dealing with the state budget right now, Goss says, and probably will not take up his bill until after the budget is done. Even then, he says, there’s no guarantee his bill will make any progress.
Preiser plans to push on, regardless.
“A bill is not going to help me, but I’m not giving up, because it will help others down the road,” she says.
Her nonprofit organization’s goal is to have state law “recognize that the relationship between a grandchild and a grandparent is a special bond,” according to its Web site, “one that should not be broken.”
State law does not give grandchildren and grandparents recourse if the parents decide to cut off the relationship.
At the same time a growing number of grandparents are raising grandchildren ó due to divorce and other problems ó many are also losing touch with grandchildren because they have no means to force visitation.
Preiser, 77, has custody of two of her great-grandchildren, a girl and a boy, ages 3 and 8, respectively. She says she got them because of poor living conditions and neglect. The children’s mother is the daughter of one of Preiser’s other children.
The girl was 31/2 months old when Preiser and her husband, Bob, took them in.
The Preisers don’t live a lonely life; she has eight children, several of whom live in Stanly County. So sometimes when she talks about the three granddaughters she does not see, someone will suggest she just focus on her other grandchildren.
“Other grandchildren are not these,” she says.
Grandchildren and Grandparents Visitation of N.C. has hundreds of people on its rolls, but Preiser says meetings usually attract only a handful. “They get kind of discouraged,” she says. “We’ve had some bills that go nowhere.”
This year, she hopes, will be different.
The April meeting of Grandchildren and Grandparents Visitation of N.C. will be held 11 a.m. Saturday at Davie County Library, 371 N. Main St., Mocksville. For more information, contact Preiser at 704-463-1763.