Life, liberty and time with the grandchildren. To many grandparents, these should be unalienable rights. And while it is true that grandparents in all 50 states have certain rights with regard to grandchildren, those rights are seldom as robust or as straightforward as grandparents think they should be. That's because grandparent visitation statutes are part of state law.
Why shouldn't something so important be ensconced in federal law?
Because the Constitution does not mention family law, that area has traditionally been reserved for states. Since lawmakers in each state approach their tasks differently, uniform grandparent visitation laws are almost an impossibility.
The network of state-specific laws probably worked fairly well for years, when families tended to inhabit small geographical areas. It doesn't work so well now, when families can be scattered across the nation.
Why Grandparent Visitation Law Is Complicated
Laws about grandparents' rights vary greatly from state to state. That means that grandparents in search of information must conduct state-specific searches, after determining which state has jurisdiction. (It's usually the state in which the grandchildren reside.)
Once grandparents have located and studied the appropriate state laws, they must also consider case law, defined as court decisions which make new interpretations of statutes.
A person who studies only the law without studying specific cases is getting only half the picture.
The State Law Summaries
The summaries of state law which follow are overviews, written in an effort to shorten and simplify the statutes for a lay audience. Each article links to the official state statutes, and grandparents are encouraged to read the actual statutes for themselves.
The statutes for different states are stored in different databases. Some of these databases are not user-friendly, and glitches occur frequently. Some databases will allow a link to the specific section being cited. Other databases link only to the main page or to the table of contents. In this case users will need to look for the statute numbers supplied.
Grandparent visitation laws do change, although not terribly frequently. Some grandparents' rights groups have organized to work for improved access to grandchildren. They are, however, countered frequently by parents' rights organizations trying to strengthen the position of parents. Thus many proposed bills die before becoming law. Still, grandparents who are striving to understand the statutes of a particular state should be certain that they have access to the latest version.
- Alabama has a new law, passed in 2016, but the requirements for visitation are quite stringent.
- Alaska law provides two pathways for winning visitation, but one is much easier.
- Arizona law lists factors to be considered in determining the best interests of grandchildren.
- Arkansas law requires that grandparents meet tough standards for visitation, including the harm standard.
- California grandparent visitation law is relatively liberal, except that grandparents cannot sue for visitation with children living in an intact family.
- Colorado statutes and case law make visitation relatively difficult to win.
- Connecticut law allows "any person" who has acted in a parental role to sue for visitation with a child.
- Delaware has laws regarding third-party visitation, language that includes grandparents.
- Florida laws and judicial precedents make it difficult for grandparents to win visitation.
- Georgia laws were revised in 2012, making it harder for grandparents to be awarded visitation.
- Hawaii has a grandparent visitation law on the books, but it has been declared unconstitutional.
- Idaho statutes contain a single sentence about grandparent visitation.
- Illinois laws about grandparent visitation are long and detailed.
- Indiana law narrowly defines grandparents.
- Iowa laws passed in 2007 make it difficult to win visitation.
- Kansas law allows grandparents who have had a relationship with grandchildren to sue for visitation.
- Kentucky grandparent visitation law has been strongly influenced by case law.
- Louisiana law contains three statutes relating to grandparent visitation.
- Maine grandparents must have an existing relationship with a grandchild in order to sue for visitation, or must have tried to have such a relationship.
- Maryland law is badly flawed, making it difficult for grandparents to win visitation in that state.
- Massachusetts is considered a restrictive state with regard to grandparents' visitation rights.
- Michigan law about grandparent visitatiion is very long and detailed.
- Minnesota law provides three situations in which grandparents can sue for visitation.
- Mississippi law makes it difficult for most grandparents to win visitation.
- Missouri is considered a somewhat permissive state for grandparents seekiing visitation.
- Montana takes a somewhat different approach to grandparents' rights.
- Nebraska law is short and easy to understand, but also narrowly drawn.
- Nevada laws are long and detailed, posing significant obstacles for grandparents.
- New Hampshire does not allow grandparents to sue for visitation with grandchildren living in intact families.
- New Jersey requires that grandparents meet the harm standard in order to win visitation.
- New Mexico is sometimes considered a model for grandparent visitation law.
- New York laws are brief but not easy to understand.
- North Carolina statutes are bad news for grandparents.
- North Dakota laws are both good news and bad news for grandparents.
- Ohio law does not allow visitation with grandchildren who live in an intact family.
- Oklahoma law is long and detailed, but easy to understand.
- Oregon law falls into the category sometimes known as "psychological parent" laws.
- Pennsylvania law uses the term custody instead of visitation.
- Rhode Island laws are short and specific but do not allow visitation with grandchildren in intact families.
- South Carolina is a very difficult state for grandparents seeking visitation.
- South Dakota is usually classified as a permissive state with regard to visitation rights.
- Tennessee laws aim to protect the rights of parents.
- Texas requires that grandparents meet the harm standard in order to win visitation.
- Utah provisions for grandparent visitation have been steadily chipped away by case law.
- Vermont statutes for grandparent visitation have been undermined by case law.
- Virginia covers grandparents under laws referring to "persons of legitimate interest."
- Washington has no grandparent visitation law in effect, since the last statute was declared unconstitutional.
- West Virginia provides for visitation in two situations.
- Wisconsin is usually considered a permissive state with regard to visitation rights.
- Wyoming has provisions that are both good and bad for grandparents seeking visitation.