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Clay v. Clay

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

April 17, 2018

Mary Lu Clay, Petitioner/Respondent,
v.
Melissa Clay, Respondent/Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Hon. John R. Essner, J.

          OPINION

          Lisa Van Amburg, Judge

         Melissa Clay (Mother) appeals the circuit court's judgment granting grandparent visitation with her daughter (Child) to Child's paternal grandmother, Mary Lu Clay (Grandmother). We affirm.

         Background

         Child was born to Mother and Forrey Cordell Clay (Father) in July 2010. Grandmother, who lives in Wisconsin, attended Mother's baby shower and Child's birth in St. Louis. During the first 20 months of Child's life, Grandmother visited Child in St. Louis about nine times, and the couple took Child to visit Grandmother and Father's family in Wisconsin about four times. After a visit to St. Louis in April 2012, Grandmother's subsequent requests to visit Child were denied or ignored.

         Father died in October 2015. Grandmother briefly spoke to Child at Father's funeral and later asked to visit Child, but Mother didn't respond. Grandmother filed a petition for grandparent visitation in December 2015, which was dismissed for failure to comply with § 452.402. Grandmother filed the petition in the instant action in March 2016 and proposed visitation schedule of:

• 2 supervised visits followed by two unsupervised visits;
• One weekend per month for 6 months in the St. Louis area from Saturday at 10:00 a.m. through Sunday at 4:00 p.m., outside Child's home;
• Thereafter, one weekend per month in or outside of the St. Louis area from Saturday at 10:00 a.m. through Sunday at 4:00 p.m.;
• One week each summer, which could be at Grandmother's residence in Wisconsin; and
• 96 consecutive hours during Child's Christmas break from school.

         Mother opposed visitation, asserting that it was not in Child's best interest to be away from home and that Grandmother was a stranger to Child. The court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent Child's interests in the case.

         At a hearing on the petition, Grandmother testified that she works as a registered nurse in Wisconsin and has frequent contact with her other grandchildren. Grandmother testified that she wanted to be involved in Child's life, be a good role model, and offer child joy, a good relationship, contact with Father's family, and "fun times, educational times, and great memories of her dad." At the hearing, Mother described Child as a "fun, loving, kind, generous little girl." Mother testified that, at Father's funeral, Grandmother told Child that Grandmother was taking Mother to court to take Child away from Mother. Mother testified that Child was "scared" and that, when Mother told Child that Grandmother would like to visit with her, Child said ""No. She's going to take me away and I'll never see you again." Grandmother testified that she said nothing of the sort, and she presented a witness who testified that she saw Grandmother and Child talking at the funeral, and that Child did not seem fearful. The GAL testified that she was not in a position to recommend grandparent visitation because she had no opportunity to see Grandmother and Child interact, and that Grandmother was essentially a stranger to Child.

         The trial court granted Grandmother's petition for a visitation with child, ordering the following visitation schedule:

• Two supervised "reconciliation" visits at the DRS office;
• Two unsupervised weekend visits in St. Louis, the second of which would be an overnight visit in which Child would be in Grandmother's custody overnight to occur within ...

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