Family feud hits the Legislature

Trudie Kibala's spats with her mother over the years have led her and her husband Paul to try reconciling through prayer, family therapy and even a professional mediator. She never thought those family fights would end up in the Nevada Legislature.

On Tuesday, Trudie and Paul Kibala asked a legislative panel to reject an attempt by her mother, Karen Goodwill-Freda, and her mother's husband, Michael Freda, to pass a law that would allow grandparents to fight their children in court for the right to visit their grandchildren.

"Never have I felt as threatened in my entire life as I do today," said Paul Kibala. "I am fighting for my family here. If this law is passed, my life will be irreparably damaged."

"We are not on drugs. We are not crazy people. To just assume that we don't know what's in the best interest of our children is just insane."

Current Nevada law allows grandparents to go to court in cases of dissolved marriages, but does not allow them to challenge an intact, two-parent family's decision.

A few years ago, Freda and Goodwill-Freda had an argument with the Kibalas over disciplining their three children. Freda said Paul Kibala was too harsh when spanking his children, and bruised one child on two occasions. They eventually called Child Protective Services, but the agency declined to pursue the matter.

The Kibalas say they're normal parents, aren't overly forceful, and have happy, healthy children. After the arguments and accusations, they just don't want the couple around.

Without telling their children, Freda and Goodwill-Freda began a campaign to change the law. Three years ago, they started a Reno-based advocacy group, and say the issue is bigger than their family disagreement.

In 2005, they approached Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, who sponsored a similar proposal that died in committee. This year, Freda and Goodwill-Freda are pushing SB204 with the help of Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, the sponsor of the bill.

The couple testified in favor of that proposal last Thursday, saying that parents don't always make decisions with the child's best interests in mind. Several grandparents spoke in support of the bill, saying that current statutes don't provide for grandparents' special status in families.

"We tried talking to their pastor to get some intervention, and nothing was working," including numerous apologies, Freda said Tuesday. "It was all about power and control. We felt that we had no other place to turn. The only thing we can do is change the law."

Ann Price McCarthy, a family lawyer who testified Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that grandparents' rights already are protected under state law. If the parents are deemed unfit, grandparents are next in line for custody.

McCarthy, who often represents grandparents, said the bill is unconstitutional and would lead to overburdened courts, an assertion that Freda disputes. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that as long as parents are competent their decisions about visitation are final.

"Your best bet is to open the doors of communication, get into counseling," said McCarthy. "Fix your relationship with their child."

Washington said that when he agreed to sponsor the legislation, he was unaware that the bill's chief advocates were engaged in a family dispute. He would still like to see a bill specifically tailored to help grandparents in dysfunctional families, he said.

"If I'd realized there was a family dispute I would have taken a second look," said Washington. "I don't think they should use the Legislature to try to handle family feuds."

Freda said he clearly explained his family's situation to Washington when he proposed the bill.

Paul Kibala, a high school teacher in Reno, said he only realized the issue was before the Legislature after seeing Freda on television last week. He was stunned that his mother-in-law and her husband have spent years gathering evidence and pursuing a legislative fix to their problem - one that Kibala said could still be solved.

"We have never closed the door to visitation or reconciliation, but it can't just be on their terms," said Kibala. "If they really think that forcing visitation upon intact families like ours is going to make things better - well, it's going to make things worse."


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