When a situation occurs which disrupts the relationship that a grandparent has with their grandchild and that situation causes an estrangement of the relationship, it is of great concern. As a grandparent you may have rights depending on the state in which you live to restore those rights to see and enjoy your grandchildren. If a parent or guardian is keeping you from having contact with your grandchildren, it may be appropriate to take legal steps which you can determine by discussing your situation with a senior law attorney who specializes in elder law issues.
About 40 years ago, many states came to have an understanding of these issues and began enacting laws which are often referred to as “grandparent visitation” laws. They were created to provide a legal backstop for grandparents with regard to their grandchildren. Today all 50 states have some type of grandparent visitation law. These laws give grandparents legal rights which allow them to continue their relationships with their grandchildren.
These laws are not absolutes. They may not give a grandparent an absolute right to visitation. This is because a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court gives priority to the wishes of the parents in resolving visitation issues. The states vary on the degree of parents’ rights to control their children. There are some states which see visitation by grandparents as not a serious burden upon the parents. They speak in terms of “best interest of the child”. They tend to be “permissive” states and feel grandparents’ visitation is useful.
Other states take a stricter and protective view of parent’s right to decide what is best for the child. They have “restrictive” visitation statutes, meaning that generally only grandparents, not other caretakers, have visitation rights, and these rights may be pursued only if the child’s parents are divorcing, one or both parents have died, or the child was born out of wedlock. In other words, in these states the parents of “intact” families have the final word on whether or not grandparents are allowed to visit.
There are no firm rules for determining when a court will grant visitation; every case is decided on its own facts and merits. However, grandparents can take steps to improve their chances of gaining visitation rights. In deciding visitation cases, courts often consider the previous relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, and they look favorably on evidence of a consistent and caring relationship. For this reason, a grandparent should try to build a meaningful relationship with a child from the outset. If the child’s parent rejects the grandparent’s efforts to visit, the grandparent should keep a record of his or her attempted contacts and continue to make a reasonable effort to preserve the relationship with the grandchild, such as by sending gifts and cards. When it comes time to meet with an attorney, grandparents should have documentary evidence and names of witnesses to support their claim that visitation is in the best interest of the child.
One way to avoid a court battle is to try professional mediation. In mediation, the disputing parties engage the services of a neutral third party to help them hammer out a legally binding agreement that all concerned can live with. The disputing parties can control the process and they have a chance to explain their perspectives and feelings. In a court of law, on the other hand, the judge will ultimately make a decision based on laws that may seem unfair to one or both sides.