Grandparents' Rights in Custody and Visitation

How to Handle Disputes of Grandparents' Rights

Caucasian couple looking at photographs with grandchildren
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The idea of grandparents' rights often stems from an assertion of rights by grandparents, seeking increased visitation with their grandchildren. In most states, the concept of grandparents' rights does not exist, as it is a parent's decision to determine whether or not to allow their parents to have a meaningful relationship, including visitation, with their children. Events that generally give rise to a discussion of grandparents' rights include: a dispute between the grandparent and his/her child, the death of the grandparent's adult child, or the divorce of a grandparent's child and his/her spouse.

In Disputes With Parents, What Are Grandparents' Rights?

In some courts, if a child has lived with a grandparent for a determined amount of time, the court may grant that grandparent visitation rights. In addition, if a custody dispute is pursued and the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child to reside with a grandparent, such an arrangement will be ordered and established. However, if the grandparent failed to exercise parental rights regarding his or her own child, it may be particularly difficult to secure visitation rights with that child's children.

When Death Occurs, What are Grandparents' Rights?

Some states will order visitation to a grandparent whose adult child has died, leaving behind surviving children. The benefit of allowing grandparents to remain in a child's life after death may be to remind the child of what he or she has lost, or to provide some stability in the child's life during a period of grief and confusion.

When Divorce Occurs, What Are Grandparents' Rights?

Generally, after a separation or divorce, a grandparent does not need to assert his or her rights, so long as the parent to whom the grandparent is related has custody rights, and the grandparent has a good working relationship with that parent. In such cases, the grandparents are generally able to visit the grandchild when he or she is in the custody of that parent.

There may be an issue, though, if the grandparent's adult child is denied custodial rights and the grandparent would like to establish visits with the grandchild. However, as long as the grandparent has developed a bond with the grandchild, and no harm has been done to the child, the court may grant reasonable visitation rights to the grandparent.

The Burden Upon Grandparents in Court Proceedings

Grandparents will have to prove that visitation or custody is in the best interest of the child. However, it will be difficult for a grandparent to assert his or her rights to a grandchild in the absence of an actual change in the parent-child relationship, as in the examples mentioned above. In addition, the court will expect proof that the grandparent has maintained a good relationship with the child; and if the child is old enough and mature enough, the court might like to hear from the child on his or her preference regarding visits with the grandparent, as well. In any case, grandparents should also be careful not use their time with a grandchild to undermine the child's parents or to speak against either parent.

Grandparents' rights generally vary by state. Some states have laws that are more accommodating to grandparents than other states.

Grandparents, seeking to assert their rights, should first check the specific laws of their states.