Grandparents’ Rights In Divorce & Custody Cases

grandparents rights in divorce custody cases

There are so many considerations when planning to divorce and navigating child custody in a way that keeps the children’s best interests at heart. One of the most overlooked aspects of any divorce is the grandparents’ roles after the divorce. Clients often ask:

  • Do grandparents have visitation or custody rights?
  • Can grandparents be granted full or part-time custody?
  • Should grandparent visits be part of the child custody and visitation agreement?
  • Can a grandparent be legally denied visitation with a child?

If you are a grandparent or you are concerned your spouse may not uphold visitation with grandparents after a divorce, schedule a consultation with a family law specialist ASAP. 

Steps To Protect Grandparents’ Visitation (Or Custody) Rights After A Divorce

Every situation is different, so consulting with a lawyer is critical if you want legal documents specifying anything related to grandparent custody or visitation. As with step-parents, there is nothing inherently automatic about visitation rights for grandparents – even if they’ve been a regular part of the children’s lives.

If these decisions aren’t made during the divorce proceedings, paperwork can be filed after the fact, but this is not advised. To protect the children’s best interests, these decisions should be made and legally documented – or decided by the courts – during the divorce proceedings so everyone can move forward afterward. 

Schedule a consultation with a family law mediator

First, we recommend scheduling consultations with a family law mediator. Mediators are licensed family law attorneys who use a fee-based schedule, prioritizing the ease, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of keeping divorce proceedings out of the contentious courtroom. 

Research shows that the emotional and mental well-being of children (and adults) improves when divorces are as respectful and amicable as possible. Your mediator can help you establish sound, sensible guidelines for incorporating grandparent visits and traditions into the child custody and visitation agreement to take that worry off the table.

Petition for visitation rights

If one spouse or the other is hedging for some reason, grandparents have the right to petition for visitation rights through the courts. In this case, the courts review everyone’s input and information and make their decision. This is only the case if parents are never married, are separated or divorced, and do not live in the same home. If parents are married and live together, grandparents cannot usually petition the court for visitation (there are exceptions, but your attorney can work through them with you if that scenario applies to you).

Not surprisingly, the court’s focus is always on the children’s best interests. When reviewing the petition, they’ll consider multiple factors:

  • The children’s age
  • Children’s wishes (the older the child, the more the child respects their opinion and input).
  • Historical visitation and relationship scenarios. For example, if the children have always spent time with grandparents during the summer, gone to weekly or monthly meals/overnights, or shared holiday or birthday traditions – these types of things are typically viewed as healthy to maintain. The court is likely to make that part of their ruling.
  • The child’s relationship with their custodial parent(s) or guardian(s).
  • A parent’s opposition to visitation (any indication of abuse, travel issues, historical conflicts that impact a child’s well-being at a grandparent’s home, etc.).

In addition to the children’s well-being, courts pay special attention when a parent intentionally blocks visitation. The court prioritizes parental rights and weighs parental input heavily. They’ll listen carefully to the current and historical evidence, and decide accordingly.

Ultimately, as the CA Family Law Court states on its website:

…the judge can only order reasonable visitation if they find that there’s an existing bond between grandparents and child and the child’s best interest outweighs the opposing parent’s rights.

Grandparents as legal guardians

Then, there is the scenario where grandparents feel their grandchild(ren)’s wellbeing is at risk with either parent. In this case, grandparents have the right to petition for legal guardianship. While there is a difference in the forms you complete and file with the court. 

In this case, it’s the grandparent(s)’ responsibility to prove that the child’s health, well-being, and safety are in danger with either parent. This may be due to a history of abuse or addiction or because a mental or physical health issue makes it impossible for the parent to care for the child properly. 

If there is any way you can get the parents to agree to the guardianship, we highly encourage this route. A family law mediator is your best asset in mediating conversations, highlighting the court’s standard views on varying scenarios, and presenting ideas around guardianship, visitation, etc., based on our experience with other families. 

In the case mediation isn’t an option, consult with a family law attorney specializing in guardianship to ensure you have all of the evidence required to support and strengthen your case. If parents oppose the petition for guardianship, you want to hire the best lawyer you can afford, as these trials are awful for the children. You want the best resolution possible, as quickly as possible, to minimize the impact on the children.

Learn More About Grandparent Visitation At The Law Offices Of Gerard Falzone

Are you worried your child’s divorce will affect your relationship with a grandchild? As parents, are you interested in putting grandparent visitation stipulations into the child custody and visitation agreements? Or, are you a grandparent interested in pursuing legal guardianship of your grandchild(ren)? 

Contact the Law Offices of Gerard Falzone and schedule a consultation. Our offices always prioritize mediation and collaborative methods, focusing on keeping the stress, contention, and unnecessary costs out of the divorce and child custody proceedings.