Custody & Visitation Law

Grandparents' Rights

In many states the rights of grandparents are governed by certain specific laws. Grandparents can petition the courts to be able to see grandchildren who have been kept away from them by the child's parents. This is referred to as grandparent visitation rights, or the legal right for a grandparent to spend time with their grandchild.

Many jurisdictions recognize and understand the benefits a child receives from having contact with their grandparents. On the other hand, it is equally as important to consider the parents' or legal guardian's rights to make choices for the well-being of their child.

With that in mind, many states have enacted statutes that offer guidelines for courts to use when a grandparent seeks the right to visit their grandchild.

State-to-State Variations

Each state has specific statutes to govern how grandparents' rights cases are handled. These statutes vary greatly from one state to another. Some states have permissive visitation statutes and others have restrictive visitation statutes.

The states with permissive statutes have more relaxed requirements or limitations for grandparents seeking visitation. Maine and Connecticut allow a grandparent to bring a visitation claim if there is a pre-existing relationship with the child. Some states are permissive because they do not have any firm laws on the subject of grandparent visitation. States including Hawaii, Tennessee, Washington, and California don't have firm laws because the state Supreme Court as well as the federal court system declared their prior statutes unconstitutional.

However, some states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Iowa have more stringent restrictions on grandparent visitation. These laws are constantly changing, so you may want to speak with a family law attorney to learn more about the current status of your state's laws.

Factors Affecting Grandparents' Rights

In states that have restrictive visitation statutes, grandparents are limited to being able to seek visitation only if one or both parents have passed away, if the parents have divorced, or if the parents have been convicted of a felony or violent offense.

States with permissive visitation statutes are more lenient with the requirements for grandparents seeking visitation rights. These laws weigh a number of factors to determine visitation rights for grandparents.

One factor that is a constant with grandparents' rights cases is that the court has to consider what is best for the child. Typically, the court will consider a variety of factors in each case, including what the child needs, the relationship status between the grandchild and grandparent, the safety of the child, and the physical distance between the child and the grandparents.

Some states allow the child to make his or her wishes known about grandparent visitations. The wishes of the parents and grandparents are considered.

When Child Abuse Is Suspected

If a parent or guardian is suspected of child abuse, a court might be willing to award very permissive rights to the grandparents. In instances in which a parent's rights have been terminated, the grandparents might have a stronger case for either custody or more extensive grandparents' visitation rights.

How Adoption Affects Grandparents' Rights

Different states have different approaches to when grandparents' rights are appropriate. One of the conditions that has a profound impact on a grandparent's right to seek visitation is if the child has been adopted. In cases that involve the termination of parental rights, a child might become adopted. Until the child is adopted, the grandparents might be able to seek visitation rights.

If a child is adopted by a step-parent, the grandparents can usually still seek visitation rights. In some states, such as Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, Indiana, and Kansas, a grandparent can seek visitation if the child was adopted by a blood relative. In other states, such as Connecticut, adoption in any form doesn't preclude a grandparent from seeking visitation rights.

Some states have statutes that don't allow grandparents' rights if the child has been adopted. These states include Arkansas, Delaware, Wisconsin, Virginia, Rhode Island, Maine, and Hawaii.

Because state statutes and laws regarding grandparents' rights are in a constant state of change, getting questions answered by an experienced family law attorney can help grandparents to learn the current statutes. If a grandparent's case meets current state statutes for seeking grandparents' rights, the attorney can guide the grandparent through the steps to pursue visitation rights.