The custodial parent in Massachusetts has a fundamental liberty interest in child rearing and may oppose a complaint for grandparent visitation. Dearborn v. Deausault, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 234, 238 (2002). A grandparent seeking visitation with a child over the objections of a fit parent must rebut the presumption that the parent's decision is legally valid. G.L c. 119, § 39D. There exists a presumption that a fit parent will act in the best interest of a child and the decision of a fit parent concerning grandparent visitation is entitled to considerable deference. Blixt v. Blixt, 437 Mass. 649, 655 (2002). It is said that the natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children. Blixt at 659.
The grandparent has the burden of rebutting the presumptive validity of a parent's visitation decision. Dearborn v. Deausault, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 234, 238 (2002). In order to rebut the presumptive validity of the decision a grandparent must prove that they have a significant preexisting relationship with the child. A significant preexisting relationship means a de facto parental relationship or other relationship of close bonding where significant harm may be readily inferred from the disruption of that relationship. Dearborn v. Deausault, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 234, 238 (2002). In the absence of such a relationship, the grandparent must prove that visitation between grandparent and the child is necessary to protect the child from significant harm. Dearborn v. Deausault, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 234, 238 (2002). Significant harm is harm that adversely affects the child's health, safety, or welfare. Blixt at 659.
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