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Grandparents Given Visitation Rights After Death of Daughter

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Gayla and David Dodge were married in 1988. In the first two years of their marriage, the couple had two daughters, Tori and Kacy. Shortly after Kacy’s birth, Gayla Dodge was diagnosed as suffering from kidney disease.

Over the next three years, Gayla Dodge was in and out of hospitals. In 1993, she filed for divorce from David Dodge, and was granted custody of the two girls. By then the three of them had moved to Phoenix to live with Gayla’s parents, Donald and Lucille Graville.

Gayla remarried, and she and her daughters lived with her new husband for two years. When that marriage ended, they moved back in with Mr. And Mrs. Graville for a few months, and then moved in with David Dodge’s parents, the girls’ paternal grandparents, for a six-month stay. It was during that stay that Gayla suffered a seizure and was hospitalized; after her release from the hospital, she and the girls returned to her parents’ home in Phoenix to live. Gayla died in Phoenix a year later.

After the death of their mother, Tori and Kacy moved in with their father and his new wife, Andrea. They continued to visit the Gravilles, though disagreements began to surface between their father and their maternal grandparents. In September, 1996, about a month after Gayla’s death, David Dodge informed the Gravilles that the girls would no longer be allowed to visit them in their home.

Arizona, like all of the other states, has adopted a “grandparent visitation” law. Under the Arizona version, grandparents who have difficulty maintaining contact after the death or divorce of their children can be granted visitation rights if the court determines it to be in the best interest of the children. The Gravilles sought the intervention of the courts to secure regular visitation with Tori and Kacy.

David Dodge made several arguments to try to prevent the visitation between his daughters and his former in-laws. First, he argued that the visits were not in the girls’ best interests because the Gravilles both drank alcohol and smoked in their home, and he felt that their behavior would be detrimental to the girls. He also argued that the grandparent visitation law was unconstitutional because it interferes with a parent’s fundamental right to control the upbringing of his (or her) children.

The court first appointed a therapist to evaluate the relationship of the Gravilles to their granddaughters. The therapist opined that, because of the long-standing relationship and the active involvement of the Gravilles in the girls’ young lives, they should be permitted to remain in contact. The court not only ordered visitation, it also ordered David Dodge to pay $2,496.50 in costs (but not their attorney’s fees) associated with the lawsuit.

On appeal, David Dodge once again argued that the grandparent visitation law is unconstitutional. The Arizona Court of Appeals disagreed. While agreeing that parents do have the right to raise children as they see fit, the judges noted that parents’ rights are not absolute. “Given the instability of the nuclear family prevalent in modern society,” wrote the judges, “it is not unreasonable for the legislature ‘to attempt to strengthen intergenerational ties as an alternative or supplementary source of family support for children.'” Graville v. Dodge, January 28, 1999.

In some states, grandparent visitation laws have been declared unconstitutional. At least some of the challenged state laws permit the court to enter visitation orders even though the parents are both alive and remain married. Like most states, Arizona’s law only permits court-ordered visitation for grandparents after a divorce or the death of one of the parents. The law also requires the court to consider the history of the grandparents’ involvement and the motivations of the grandparents and parents.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.