Grandparents' Rights

In the past few decades, grandparents have started to petition the courts to be able to see grandchildren who have been kept away from them. Many people understand the benefit a child receives from having contact with grandparents. While it is important to understand this side of the issue, it is equally as important to consider the parents' rights to make choices for their child. With that in mind, many states have enacted statutes that offer guidelines for courts to use when a grandparent is seeking the right to visit a grandchild.

State-to-State Variations

Each state has specific statutes to govern how grandparents' rights cases are held. These statutes vary greatly from one state to another. Some states have permissive visitation statutes and others have restrictive visitation statutes. Some states, including Florida, Tennessee, Washington, and California don't have firm laws because of decisions from appellate courts, the United States Supreme Court, or the state's Supreme Court declaring the statutes unconstitutional, according to the American Grandparents Association.

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 or if the parents have divorced. States with permissive visitation statutes are more lenient with the requirements for grandparents seeking visitation rights.

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 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 grandparents' visitation rights.

Conditions Affecting Grandparents' Rights

Different states have different views on exactly 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 in what steps to take to seek visitation rights.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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