Grandparents and Child Custody

Divorce, separation or one parent’s death doesn’t just affect the family unit, but it affects all others who love and care about the children in the family. Sometimes grandparents are left out of the equation by the surviving spouse or the custodial parent. And sometimes grandparents challenge child custody because they fear the child isn’t being cared for properly, even when their own child is the mother or father.

Grandparents’ Rights

Every state has a child support statute that allows for grandparents to appeal to the court to give them the legal right to visit their grandchildren. Sometimes this also allows for other caretakers of the child to do the same, like stepparents or foster parents, though 20 states do have statutes that provide only for the grandparents, not people with other relationships to the child.

Some states even have grandparent visitation laws that allow for a grandparent to bring visitation matters before the court simply because they don’t feel they’re allowed enough time with their grandchildren, even when there’s no death, separation or divorce cited as the cause.  If more or extended visits with the grandparents appear to be in the child’s best interests, often these visitation rights are granted.

While the statutes are there, there’s little consistency about how they’re enforced. Parents can challenge the rulings as taking away their rights to parent, and often the rulings are overturned. The Supreme Court overruled one decision by a lower court several years ago, deciding that the parent’s right to make decisions for her children overruled a grandparent’s right to visitation. Despite this ruling, most states allow for visitation of some sort despite the parent’s wishes.

In some cases where a grandparent seeks custody because he or she fears that the grandchild is in danger, being neglected or harmed, or is in unfit surroundings, a grandparent can approach the court seeking guardianship of the child. While a painful process for everyone involved, sometimes it’s necessary. Guardianship is a form of custody, sometimes temporary until the parent can make improvements in his or her life to the extent that the child’s situation is healthier, and sometimes it can be permanent.

To Exercise Grandparents’ Rights

The first necessary step to take in most cases is to seek out mediation to try to come to an agreement with the parent that works for everyone about visitation. Many states will require that mediation be attempted before the matter will be allowed to be heard in front of a judge. During mediation, a third party who is completely neutral attempts to help the parents and grandparents work out a visitation agreement. Very often the problem can be solved at this level, so it’s worth trying even if your state doesn’t require it.

When mediation fails, then the matter will have to go to court. Each state has different laws and procedures in place regarding grandparents and child custody, so a lawyer that’s experienced in family laws and specifically the statutes that govern grandparents’ rights is an invaluable ally in the courtroom.

Contact a child custody attorney in your area today!

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