Visitation Rights for Grandparents
Grandparents and their grandchildren can have relationships of great joy and importance for both the grandparents and the child. But in the event of a parent’s death, divorce, or estrangement, families can be torn apart and relationships altered or severed. The child’s parent or guardian may obstruct any further contact with grandparents, who may take legal steps to maintain contact with the children they love. As the divorce rates rose in the 1970s, state legislatures began enacting “grandparent visitation” statutes to protect the visitation rights of grandparents and other caretakers. Now all 50 states have a grandparent visitation rights law of some type. These statutes allow grandparents to request the legal right from the court to maintain their relationships with their children’s children.
Visitation statutes, however, do not give absolute grandparent visitation rights, and the laws vary widely from state to state on critical details such as who may petition for visitation rights, under what circumstances a grandparent may file such a petition, and on what legal grounds the petition will be granted.
Most importantly, a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling presents the priority of the wishes of the parents in resolving visitation disputes, and this ruling is changing state courts’ interpretation of visitation statutes. Each state differs in the extent to which parents have a right to control how they raise their children.
Some states have viewed visitation by grandparents as only a small infringement on the right of a parent to raise a child. These states focus on what is in the “best interest of the child” in making decisions about whether or not to allow grandparents to visit. In these states, courts may award grandparents visitation rights even if the parents object.
Other states are more protective of a parent’s right to decide what is best for the child. They have “restrictive” visitation statutes, meaning that generally only grandparents’ visitation rights are respected, not other caretakers, 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 in intact families have the final word on whether or not a grandparent’s visitation rights are permitted.
Every grandparents’ visitation rights case is decided on its own facts and merits. However, grandparents can take steps to improve their chances of gaining visitation rights. Courts often consider the previous relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, and they look favorably on the evidence of a consistent and caring relationship. If a grandparent didn’t make an effort before the change in custody, visitation rights will be more difficult to obtain.
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.
Avoiding a court battle is ultimately the best way to obtain grandparent visitation rights. This can be done through a process called professional mediation. In mediation, the disputing parties engage the services of a neutral third party to help them come to a legally binding agreement that everyone involved can live with. The disputing parties can control the process and they have a chance to explain their perspectives and feelings.
Grandparent visitation rights are an important part of a child’s life. They benefit the grandparents and the children alike. The special bond between the two should not be denied under ordinary circumstances. If you are having trouble obtaining grandparent visitation rights, an experienced attorney can help you through the process.
Divorce Your Spouse – Not your Children’s Grandparents
When parents divorce, each member of the family is affected in very unique and personal ways. The age of the child, their gender, their relationship with their siblings, how close they were to each parent and a myriad of other factors all influence the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual repercussions in the months and years ahead.
Effects of Divorce on Grandparents
Divorce can have a deep physical, mental, and emotional impact on grandparents. Grandparents who were close to their grandchildren prior to the divorce may feel intense sadness or loss over not being able to continue those relationships after the separation of the parents. It’s also possible for grandparents to experience feelings of guilt over the situation and frustration at their inability to change the circumstances.
There are many others whose lives are forever changed by the complexities of divorce. Frequently overlooked and often tragically scarred are the grandparents. Custody issues are hard enough for parents to battle out. Few take into account the consequences for grandparents whose unconditional love for their grandchildren is such a healthy and rewarding part of normal family life.
Once again this is a time for clear thinking on behalf of your children. Should they be deprived of the warmth, intimacy, and loving support of grandparents just because you are angry at your former spouse? When you take out your marital frustrations on your in-laws — your children’s grandparents — it’s your children who will suffer.
Healthy Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship
Grandparents have a special place in the lives and hearts of their grandchildren. Usually, they are the ones to spoil the kids, indulge them, and take them off your hands when no one else can come to the rescue. Of course, not all grandparents fit the idyllic stereotype, nor are all grandparents emotionally close to their grandchildren. But if your in-laws have a healthy relationship with your children, think long and hard before severing that chord.
A child-centered divorce honors and respects all the adults and children that play a part in your children’s lives. One of the primary factors in easing your children through the challenges of separation or divorce is maintaining their lives as closely as possible to their pre-divorce routines. The less disruption in their schedules, day-to-day and month-to-month activities, the easier will be their transition through divorce and beyond.
Spending time with grandma and grandpa, whether every Sunday, once a month, or once a year over Christmas or summer vacation, is a routine that means life is going on with some semblance of safety, security, and ease. Consider the consequences before interrupting or sabotaging that relationship. Don’t deny your children the support system they have come to love and depend upon out of spite, resentment, or any other motive not of relevance to your children.
Divorce is tough all around. It behooves you to do the right thing every step of the way. Seek professional guidance if you need help regarding decisions affecting your children. Let those decisions be motivated by your love for your children – not by your resentment against those who love your children, as well.