The bond between grandparents and their grandchildren is special. It is one that is built over time. To flourish, the grandparent grandchild relationship needs geographical proximity, physical contact, and a sense of normalcy. When parents threaten that bond through divorce, abuse, or a family misunderstanding; grandparents are understandably distraught and concerned about what recourse they have if they can’t resolve the situation privately. Grandparents can go through the court system to get visitation rights and even custody under certain circumstances. An experienced family law attorney can assist grandparents in exploring their legal options to obtain grandchild visitation rights.
Getting Visitation Rights
A grandparent does not have an inherent right to visit a grandchild. To get visitation you may have to petition the family court. In many states grandparents fall into a special category, and can often obtain a schedule that allows them access to their grandchildren. Courts consider factors like the relationship between the parents, whether one or both of the parents is alive, the relationship between the parents and the child, and the relationship between the grandparents and the child.
Courts make their determinations based on what is in the best interest of the child. The goal is to create a situation that gives the child maximum stability. In order to do this courts take several factors into consideration including:
- The child’s emotional state, gender, and age
- The child’s preference
- The degree to which the child is attached to the parents and grandparents
- The lifestyles of both the parents and grandparents
- The location of the grandparents in relation to the child, particularly if one lives out of state
- The child’s ability to adjust to moving between homes
Getting Full Grandparent Custody When Both Parents Are Still Alive
It can be difficult to get child custody when the parents are alive because courts prefer to keep families together. That changes when parents are not willing or not able to care for the child. These circumstances can include:
- Both parents being unfit
- One parent being unfit and the other parent unwilling to care for the child
- Alcohol or drug abuse in the home
- Mental illness
- Documented neglect or abuse in the home
- Consent to relinquish custody to grandparents by both parents
Grandparents may still fail to get child custody if other family members petition the courts for the child. The courts are much more likely to give grandchild custody to grandparents when the child has been in their care for a period of time. Courts can require that grandparents care for grandchildren for a year before granting custody.
Getting Full Custody After a Custodial Parent Dies
When one parent dies it is the preference of the court to place children with the other parent. A blood relative is their second choice. In considering the grandparents as custodians courts look at several factors including the age, financial status, and health of the grandparents. Other factors that come into play are:
- A will naming the grandparents guardians
- Custodial parent and child living with the grandparents at the time of the parent’s death
- The child’s wishes
Almost 3 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and that number is rising mostly due to the opioid crisis. If you are concerned about the welfare of a grandchild, have been barred from visiting him or her, or believe the child should be in your care, you need professional advice and representation. Retaining the services of an experienced family law attorney should be the first steps that you take in order to learn all of your legal options.
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