Grandparent rights and
grandchildren - There have always been those
special cases where problems exist between parents and
grandparents over the right to see and spend time with grandchildren, there are more cases now than there have ever been.
The increase in the number of
cases where grandparents are seeking court ordered visitation
rights is probably inevitable.
When one considers the increase
in children born out of wedlock, the increase in the divorce rate,
an increase in the propensity for a single custodial parent to
move to another location, and a general decrease in societyís
valuation of grandparent relationships, the predictable result
would be less tolerance of the grandparentsí desire to stay
connected to the grandchildren.
This is especially true in the cases mentioned above.
Fortunately, the law has stepped
in and placed laws on the books in all 50 states that help protect
grandparents rights. There
is however, little uniformity between the laws, and your rights as
a grandparent will vary depending upon what state you live in and
what state the custodial parent lives.
Grandparent rights statutes will
vary but can generally be broken into two large camps, which are
primarily defined as to whether the childís parents are together
or not. Therefore,
while the right to visit grandchildren is largely protected, it is
Lenient grandparent rights states
More lenient states allow
grandparents the right to petition for visitation rights,
regardless of whether the parents are together, even if they both
object. Some states
allow other family members or even unrelated parties to file such
a petition if they can show that they have and will continue to
have a strong and vital relationship with the child.
Examples of each would be aunts,
uncles, or former foster parents.
These states lean more towards what is in the best interest
of the child rather than the absolute right of the parents to
raise a child under the circumstances that they see fit.
Keep in mind that it isnít very
easy for an unrelated party to get such a petition granted.
That party must show that a continuation of the
relationship is in the best interest of the child, not just that
it is in the best interest of the adult seeking the petition.
Other states give more credence
to the parentsí viewpoint as to what is in the best interest of
the child. In those
states, only grandparents may seek visitation rights and even
grandparents may only seek those rights where the parents are not
When the parents are together and
both parents refuse to grant visitation, these states infer that
there are not any relationship difficulties that are causing the
rift, and that the parents are jointly acting in the best interest
of the child.
In cases where the parents are
not together, grandparent are often granted visitation with the
grandchildren, though the particular circumstances can vary
In either case, grandparents that
have had little to do with the grandchildren in the past, have
significantly less chance of being granted court ordered
The court reviews each case
independently, has a great deal of discretion, and strongly
considers the previous relationship.
Grandparents that have had little to do with the grandchild
in the past will have a hard time showing that their relationship
is vital to the childís development.
Since a former relationship is
strongly considered, you should always seek to build a strong
relationship with the grandchild from the beginning.
Coming in an out of the childís life or taking little
initiative to stay in contact with the child could even be viewed
as potentially harmful to the child.
Avoiding the court battle
Since visitation rights are
almost always pursued in the wake of a rift in the relationship
between one or more of the parents and the grandparents, it may be
possible to solve all problems by mending that relationship.
There is seldom one side to these
rifts and even if you think that you are completely right, the
other side seldom sees it the same way you do. The parent
often has an emotional reason that cause them to refuse
Itís hard to say what those
reasons may be, but in many cases, itís a way of getting back at
the non-custodial parent. Other
times, the custodial parent may view you as a threat or resent
something that you have said or done in the past.
In divorce cases, families often
take sides and emotions flare up throughout the entire family.
When such emotions come to the surface, things can be said
or done that alienate the non-related spouse.
Snide comments, accusations, or
those made in anger or sympathy of one spouse, are often said to
or in front of the grandchildren.
Other times, they are merely overheard.
These comments, whether true or not, are often repeated
back to the parent and this will certainly cause some very hard
Similar comments made to other
adults can also come back to haunt you.
Leave the relationship problems to your kids and make it
known that regardless of the circumstances, you will stay out of
it and honor both of them as parents of your grandchildren.
If negative comments have been
made, the best avenue is simply to apologize and then stay out of
it. This may
alleviate enough tension to allow visitation without having to
resort to court filings.
Grandparents can also get much
more blame than they deserve.
While the parentís lives are in chaos, they often look
for someone else to blame. In
such cases, the blame can easily fall to the grandparents for
ďraising such an awful childĒ.
Other times, the parent assumes
that the grandparents must be attacking when they are not.
In either case, you still have to address the problem by
making affirmative statements that support both parents equally.
If it looks as though you cannot
solve the problems on your own, suggest professional mediation.
In mediation, both parties agree on a neutral third party
to listen to both sides and come up with an agreement that both
sides can live with.
Neither side wins completely, but
both manage to stay out of court and at least have a partial win.
Mediators can consider feelings and circumstances that
arenít strictly governed by the law, whereas a judge is required
to consider applicable law.
By going through mediation, there
is also less potential for hard feelings and it helps keep the
children out of an ever-worsening situation.
Another way to avoid having to
petition the court for visitation is to have it built into the
divorce decree. If
you think that the custodial parent will likely cause a problem,
suggest to your child that they seek court ordered visitation as
part of the decree.
There are usually less arguments
over visitation at this time, and it will prevent future problems
as the custodial parent moves forward into a new life. It
can also give you additional leverage if something should happen
to your child before they hit the age of majority.
Remember that your kids and their
spouses are the connection between you and your grandchildren.
The in-laws may also play an important role in how you
manage those grandparent relationships.
Make sure that you create good relationships with them all
and donít let other family problems get in the way.