7 Things You May Not Know About Grandparents' Rights

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You -- And Your Grandchildren

Senior woman with arm around granddaughter, kissing forehead, portrait
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Grandparents have rights, right? Yes, but that's just the beginning of the story. Learn more about exactly where grandparents stand in the eyes of the law.
  • 01 of 07

    Grandparents aren't guaranteed a chance to see their grandchildren.

    Greeting a Grandchild in the Snow
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    Grandparents who hear about grandparents' visitation rights often assume that the laws that are in place apply to them. Sometimes they don't. Every state statute is slightly different, but grandparents must have standing in order to sue for visitation. For example, grandparents usually lose their standing when a grandchild is adopted, unless the adoptive parent is a family member. In some states, grandparents may only file suit in conjunction with another suit, such as a divorce or...MORE custody proceeding.

    Learn more about legal terms used in grandparent visitation law

  • 02 of 07

    Visitation is seldom granted when children live in an intact family.

    Parents and Grandmother With Infant
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    The principle that parents have the right to the care, custody and control of their children is deeply embedded in law, and that principle is especially strong when the parents of children are living together in what is considered an intact family. Different states, however, have differing definitions of intact families. Most of the time, the term means a household of two parents and children. In North Carolina, however, a single-parent family can be considered intact.

    Learn more about intact...MORE families.

  • 03 of 07

    The Supreme Court has weighed in on the topic of grandparent visitation.

    Ken Hammond | USDA

    The Supreme Court's decision wasn't good news for grandparents. The case of Troxel v. Granville resulted in a finding that “fit parents” are presumed to act in the best interests of the child. The state should not, in most cases, second-guess those decisions. To do so would be to “inject itself into the private realm of the family.” So a parent's decision to cut off contact with grandparents is presumed to be a good decision.

    Learn more about Troxel v. Granville.

  • 04 of 07

    Grandparents must go to court in the state in which the children reside.

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    A suit for visitation must be filed in the home state of the grandchild, and the grandchild must have lived in that state with a parent or a parental figure for six months. If a grandparent lives in a different state, he or she will need to find an attorney who can practice in the grandchild's home state. Electronic communication has made using a lawyer in another state somewhat easier than it used to be.

    Read more about which state has jurisdiction.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Grandparents can skip the attorney and file suit themselves.

    Lawyers Speaking With Judge in Courtroom
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    More and more grandparents are representing themselves in visitation suits. Some states are encouraging the practice by putting the necessary forms online. Filing without a lawyer is only advisable if the suit is fairly straightforward. Grandparents should also consider their own schedules, competencies and disposition when deciding whether to undertake a DIY suit. The process can be long, difficult and stressful.

    Learn more about grandparents representing themselves.

  • 06 of 07

    Grandparents can win custody of a grandchild.

    Senior woman with arm around granddaughter, kissing forehead, portrait
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     We hear a lot about grandparent visitation, but not so much about grandparent custody. That's because there are no special laws allowing grandparents to sue for custody of their grandchildren. They must sue under the same statutes as any other third part would. Most of the time, grandparents get custody of their grandchildren through the back door, from parents who simply abdicate their parental responsibilities. 

    Learn more about grandparent custody.

  • 07 of 07

    Grandparents have the right to be consulted about a grandchild's placement.

    African american man consulting with clients
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    When a grandchild is taken out of the family home by social services, family members including grandparents are supposed to be notified, according to a 2008 law. Family members are also allowed to have input about the placement of the child. That does not necessarily mean that the grandparents will be awarded custody or allowed to foster the grandchild, but that is a possibility.

    Read about the pros and cons of grandparent foster care.