All states have recognized grandparent visitation rights for decades. Grandparent rights ensure that children have access to the benefits of having grandparents in their lives. Grandparents may exercise their custody rights when the child's parents are unable to care for their child.
The following article provides a general overview of grandparent rights throughout the country. However, keep in mind that the specifics vary from state to state.
Grandparent Custody Requirements
Statutory provisions for child custody are usually less specific than grandparent visitation. First, courts must consider the parent-child relationship with each parent.
If either or both parents are alive, courts in most states will presume that the parents of the child should retain custody. The court will always put the best interests of the child first. Ultimately, the court prioritizes the safety and well-being of the child.
The court will consider several different factors to make this decision. For example, the court might consider the child's wishes if the child is old enough. The court will look at the physical health and mental health of each parent. They will also consider any history of domestic violence or substance abuse.
If the court finds one is an unfit parent, they might terminate their parental rights. This typically only happens when there has been severe abuse and neglect of the child and the parent has been given ample opportunity to change the situation. They might lose legal or physical custody of the child. The court also might order the parent who does not have primary physical custody to pay child support through a court order.
Grandparents must generally prove the parent is unfit to convince the court to award custody to them. It's generally very difficult for a grandparent to get custody of their grandchild against the parent's wishes. Other non-parents and family members might also petition the court for custody of a child.
Grandparent Visitation Requirements
Grandparents generally have to meet certain conditions before they can be granted court-ordered visitation. In a majority of states, courts must consider the marital status of the biological parents. Then, the court will evaluate the relevant factors to determine if visitation is appropriate.
Some states consider marital status only when the parents deny visitation rights to the grandparents. In other states, marital status is a factor if the grandchild has lived with the grandparents for a specific duration.
A minority of states require that at least one parent is deceased before a court can award visitation to the parent of the deceased parent of the child. For example, the court may award a maternal grandparent in one of these states with visitation only if the mother of the child is deceased.
In every state, grandparents must prove that granting visitation to the grandchild is in the best interest of the child. Several states also require that the court consider the grandparent-child relationship. They might also consider the effect of grandparental visitation on the relationship between the parent and child. They will also consider the possibility of harm to the grandchild if visitation is not allowed.
Effect of Adoption on Grandparent Visitation Rights
State statutes vary in their treatment of cases in which a grandchild has been adopted. In several states, adoption by anyone—including a stepparent or another grandparent—terminates the visitation rights of the grandparent.
In some states, adoption by a stepparent or another grandparent does not terminate visitation rights, but adoption by anyone else terminates visitation rights. In other states, adoption does not affect the visitation rights of grandparents as long as other statutory requirements are met.
Learn More About Your Rights as a Grandparent From an Attorney
Most grandparents would give anything to spend more time with their grandchildren. But family relationships can get complicated. Most state laws recognize the rights of individuals to visit with their grandchildren.
Find out how this could impact your family by talking to an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can provide valuable legal advice about your situation. Lawyers can help with child custody cases, resolve custody disputes, and represent you in family court.
They can advise you about your legal rights as a grandparent and even help you get custody of your grandchild if needed. Attorneys can also help with visitation cases. Many law offices offer free consultations.
Get in touch with an experienced family law attorney today.