About the Conditions That Qualify Grandparents for Visitation Rights
Not long ago, visitation rights only existed for a child’s parents. However, grandparents who are close with their grandchildren and play an active role in their lives have been devastated by being cut off unfairly. In recent years, grandparents have become more and more involved with their grandchildren, so the law has evolved to allow grandparents to legally prove that visitation is in the child’s best interest and should be mandated.
It can be difficult for grandparents to obtain these rights, and even more difficult for a grandparent to obtain custody of a grandchild against the wishes of the parents. If we have a good case to show that these rights are in the best interest of the child, however, the family law attorneys at Cutter & Lax Attorneys can help grandparents who are seeking these rights. Generally, a grandparent can seek the right to visitation in the following situations:
- If the grandchild’s parents are unmarried
- If the grandchild’s parents file for divorce, dissolution, or legal separation
- If one of the grandchild’s parents has died
Navigating grandparents’ rights can be tricky because the court also takes the parents’ wishes into account when determining whether or not to award visitation rights. This is because of the court’s general policy that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions about the care, custody, and control of their children. In general, grandparents cannot file for visitation rights when the grandchild’s parents are married, but there are exceptions, including:
- The parents are living separately
- A parent’s whereabouts are unknown and have been for at least a month
- One of the parents joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation
- The child does not live with either of their parents
- The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent
How the Courts Determine Grandparents’ Rights
However, the best interest of the child will always be the top priority, so in order to win a case like this, it will be essential to prove that visitation rights are in their best interest. If you are a grandparent who is interested in filing for visitation rights, you mist provide a copy of the petition on each of the child’s parents, stepparents, and anyone else who has physical custody of the child, which the courts will send to mediation. We understand this process can be confusing and stressful, but the team at Cutter & Lax Attorneys at Law will help every step of the way and work to take away that stress.
After the files are sent to mediation, if the parents and grandparents are still unable to settle the matter, the mediator will notify the court and it will be determined in a hearing before a judge. At this point, in addition to the child’s best interest, the court will consider the following factors when making their decision:
- The child’s health, safety, and wellbeing
- History of domestic abuse by those seeking custody or visitation
- Any use of drugs or alcohol in the family
- The nature and frequency of contact between the child and the individual seeking custody
The judges will decide whether there is a preexisting relationship between the grandparent and grandchild that is in the best interest of the child to maintain. They will also balance the parent’s wishes to deny visitation against the benefits of having the visitation. If the child is 14 years or above, the judge will also consider the child’s opinion on the visitation. If a court grants a grandparent visitation with the child, the judge can also order a parent or grandparent to pay child support for limited purposes, like transportation, medical expenses, day care costs, and other necessities. If a child must fly or take other transportation to reach the grandparent for visitation, the court can order the grandparent to pay the transportation costs to the child’s parent.
If the grandparents are given visitation rights, the amount of time they are granted depends on the factors unique to the individual case. Grandparents’ visitation can be limited to one day a month or can be more generous, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Can a Grandparent Lose Visitation Rights?
Once a grandparent has been granted visitation rights, this privilege is not necessarily permanent. You must continue to demonstrate that the relationship with the child is in their best interest, and our team can walk you through the necessary steps to take in order to achieve this.
Furthermore, if a grandchild is legally adopted, including by a stepparent, the grandparent’s right to visitation would be terminated because the child would legally be considered a stranger to the relatives of the biological parent. If this happens to you and you require further legal assistance, we would be happy to help.
However, it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to navigating grandparents’ rights. There are some situations when grandparents can be given some authority over their grandchildren through a power of attorney filed with the court. A power of attorney, also known as a POA, grants the grandparents legal authority to address the child’s medical needs and other needs, especially in cases when the parents cannot be reached. The POA can also give grandparents right relative to care, physical custody, and school-related matters, but it is not a grant of legal custody. Notice to the power of attorney to the other parent is required in these cases with a few exceptions, unless both parents are executing the POA.
Most grandparents value spending time with their grandchildren immensely, and the family lawyers at Cutter & Lax Attorneys at Law can help ensure that they are able to do so. Family relationships can become complicated, as can legal matters, but with the help of our team, we can take away some of those complications and put the best interest of the child above all else.
To learn more about grandparents’ visitation rights and how we can help with family law matters, call Cutter & Lax Attorneys at Law at (818) 839-2533 or contact us online.