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Groves v. Clark

Montana Supreme Court
982 P.2d 446 (1999)


In January 1994, Groves (plaintiff) surrendered custody of her three-year-old daughter, L.C., to Lutheran Social Services, and consented to the child’s adoption by Mr. and Mrs. Clark (defendants). Groves and the Clarks entered into a written visitation agreement allowing Groves to have unrestricted visitation with L.C. upon two days’ notice, unrestricted telephone communications, and the right to take L.C. out of school if Groves needed to travel to Butte, Montana for an emergency. In February 1994, Groves’ parental rights were terminated. In September 1994, L.C.’s adoption by the Clarks was completed. The visitation arrangement worked without complaint until June 1995, when the Clarks refused to allow Groves to take L.C. on extended trips. Groves filed suit against the Clarks for specific performance of the agreement. The District Court denied Groves’ request on the ground that the agreement was void and unenforceable. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Montana reversed on the ground that post-adoption visitation agreements are enforceable where they serve the best interests of the child. The matter was remanded to the District Court for a best-interests analysis. The Clarks argued that, by law, adoptive parents have the right to dictate whether visitation is in the child’s best interests. Groves offered expert evidence to show that L.C. would suffer if Groves were not given appropriate visitation rights. The District Court ruled that visitation was in the best interest of L.C., but it modified the parties’ agreement to give Groves just one weekend per month of unsupervised visitation and one telephone conversation per week. An appeal was taken.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Hunt, J.)

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