Defendants challenge the constitutionality of New Jersey's grandparent visitation statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1. They allege the statute is violative of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution in that it impermissibly interferes with parents' fundamental right of liberty to raise children as they see fit. After an extensive review of similar statutes across the nation and opinions of various state courts, this court concludes that N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1 is constitutional.
Plaintiff's M.T. and R.T. are the maternal grandparents of three children ages 12, 8 and 2. The defendants L.E. and J.E. are the parents of the three children. They are married and an intact family. Plaintiff's instituted their action on August 12, 1993, to secure visitation with their grandchildren after being denied visitation
by the defendants. An initial hearing was held by the court on September 9, 1993. At a second hearing on October 12, 1993, the parties were directed to participate in the County Mediation Program. When mediation failed the parties were referred to a mental health evaluator on December 16, 1993. With the evaluations nearly complete, defendants brought their motion which is now before the court. They seek to have plaintiffs' complaint dismissed on the ground that N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1 as applied to them is unconstitutional.
N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1 provides:
1.a. A grandparent or any sibling of a child residing in this State may make application before the Superior Court, in accordance with the Rules of Court, for an order for visitation. It shall be the burden of the applicant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the granting of visitation is in the best interests of the child.
b. In making a determination on an application filed pursuant to this section, the court shall consider the following factors:
(1) The relationship between the child and the applicant;
(2) The relationship between each of the child's parents or the person with whom the child is residing and the applicant;
(3) The time which has elapsed since the child last had contact with the applicant;
(4) The effect that such visitation will have on the relationship between the child and the child's parents or the person with whom the child is residing;
(5) If the parents are divorced or separated, the time sharing arrangement which exists between the ...