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Kathleen Hilton Trial Begins: Grandmother Charged with Murder and Arson over Visitation Rights

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By Admin on January 21, 2009 1:44 PM

After sitting in jail for ten years, Kathleen Hilton is finally set to stand trial for murder and arson in Massachusetts. She is alleged to have set fire to the apartment where here son's ex-girlfriend and their two children lived. In addition to issues regarding the length of time to get to trial, her case raises a question faced by many grandparents: what are grandparents' rights in child custody and visitation disputes?

As recently reported by the AP, Kathleen Hilton allegedly set the apartment ablaze in 1999 because her son's ex-girlfriend refused to allow him to visit their two children. The ex-girlfriend, Krystina Sutherland, and the two children escaped the fire. Five people in a family living above them, however, died. Hilton is on trial for five counts of second degree murder and one count of arson.

This family's child visitation dispute ended in an inferno. Though Kathleen Hilton allegedly set the fire because her son was denied visitation by the childrens' mother, many grandparents find themselves asking: what rights do grandparents have to get visitation rights to see their grandchildren?

The short answer is that it depends on your state. State laws currently run the spectrum in terms of allowing grandparents the right to seek child visitation. More permissive states such as New York and Hawaii allow grandparents to petition the court for visitation if it is in the best interest of the child, while states such as Florida and Pennsylvania require grandparents to have previously acted in a parental relationship with the child before asking the court for visitation. Additionally, some states require that the parents be divorcing (or divorced), or that at least one of the parents has died.

Visitation disputes are almost always highly emotional. Kathleen Hilton's case shows how badly things can turn out when visitation disputes go south. By informing themselves of their state laws on grandparent rights to seek visitation, grandparents involved in such disputes can most effectively secure a spot in the lives of their grandkids.