Grandparent visitation rights have been recognized in all states for the past 40 years. The main purpose of these rights is to ensure that a child has access to the emotional and developmental benefits of having a grandparent in their life. The custody rights of grandparents may be exercised when the child's parents are unable to properly care for their child or if they're deceased or incarcerated.
The following article provides a general overview of grandparent visitation rights throughout the country, although the specifics vary from state to state.
Grandparent Custody Requirements
Statutory provisions for child custody (termed "conservatorship" in a few states when it is somebody other than the child's parents) are usually less specific than the statutes regarding grandparent visitation. Courts must first consider the relationship of the parent or parents with the child before considering whether it might be appropriate to grant custody to grandparents. Several states specifically include consideration of grandparents as custodians if both parents are deceased.
If either or both parents are alive, courts in most states will presume that the parents of the child should retain custody. Grandparents must generally prove the parent is unfit in order to convince the court that the child should be placed with them. Even if the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild is strong, it's generally very difficult for a grandparent to get custody of a grandchild against the parent's wishes.
Grandparent Visitation Requirements
Grandparents generally have to meet certain conditions before they can be granted visitation. The marital status of the parents must be considered in a majority of states before a court will evaluate the relevant factors to determine if visitation is appropriate.
In some states, the parent's marital status is considered only if the grandparents have been denied visitation by the parents. In other states, marital status is considered only if the grandchild resided with the grandparents for a certain length of time.
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, a maternal grandparent in one of these states may be awarded 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 prior relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild, the effect grandparental visitation will have on the relationship between the parent and child, and/or a showing 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 effect 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 states recognize the rights of individuals to visit with their grandchildren, assuming it's in the best interests of the child. Find out how this could impact your family by getting in touch with an experienced family law attorney today.