What You Should Know About Grandparents and Visitation Rights

When circumstances occur that keep you from seeing your grandchild, you might want to know about visitation rights. More and more states are recognizing the special bond grandparents and grandchildren share. Children involved in a separation, divorce, and other stressful situations need the love and support of their loving relatives more than ever. Read on to find out more about grandparents and visitation rights.

1. Above everything else, the courts give a high priority to what they feel is the best interest of the child. Keep that in mind as you consider taking action. You might want to begin thinking about ways that your grandchild will benefit from spending court-ordered time with you. On the other hand, if your need to spend time with a grandchild will just present the child with more stress, you may not want to seek visitation.

2. In most cases, visitation for grandparents is only appropriate when the parents are no longer together. The laws, when they exist, don't usually address cases in which the grandparent is not able to see a child of an intact marriage.

3. On the other hand, the following situations could call for a grandparent to seek visitation (or even custody) rights:

  • When the parent divorces, the custodial parent refuses to let the child visit the grandparent.
  • When one parent is dead or incarcerated and the other parent is denying visits.
  • One parent is unfit or incapacitated due to mental illness, a medical condition, or substance abuse problems and the other parent is refusing to allow visits.

4. Not all grandparents will be judged suitable for visitation. The judge will review several factors when making a decision, such as:

  • The relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild.
  • The general health and home suitability of the grandparent.
  • The wishes of the child, if they are old enough to have an opinion.
  • The convenience of visitation. For example, if the child must travel a long distance, visitation might stress the child out.

Turning Visitation Into Custody

In some circumstances, the awarding of grandparent visitation opens the door for greater legal responsibility. Judges often try to place children with relatives when the parents have died, are unfit, are incarcerated, or are physically or mentally ill. In circumstances like this, parents can lose legal custody of the child. In some cases, the judge will place the child in the grandparent's home temporarily with the expectation that the parent will improve. For example, the custody issue might be revisited after the parent undergoes drug rehabilitation or takes parenting classes. In some cases, it is the biological parent who must seek visitation with their child when custody has been awarded to the grandparents.

Grandparent visitation and custody can be an emotionally-charged and important legal issue. Speak to a family law attorney for more information.