Child Custody Rights & Visitation
Understanding the Visitation and Custody Rights of Grandparents
Grandparents’ rights concerning visitation and custody of their grandchildren vary by state. Understanding the factors courts consider when granting these rights is essential for grandparents seeking to remain an active part of their grandchildren’s lives.
Grandparents’ Visitation Rights
Most state courts grant visitation rights to grandparents under specific circumstances, including:
- The death of one or both parents
- The existence of a close relationship with a grandchild
- Unwarranted attempts by parents to curtail a connection between the grandparent and grandchild
In states where courts consider a child’s best interests when making visitation decisions, grandparents usually must prove that maintaining a relationship with a grandchild is beneficial to the child. For example, although a living parent’s wishes carry considerable weight, the court also considers the child’s wishes to have a relationship with a grandparent and how visitation will promote the child’s overall emotional development and well-being. In addition, the quality of the grandparent’s relationship with the parent may also contribute to a court’s decision, though it is not a deciding factor.
A few state courts consider the parents’ wishes when determining whether or not grandparents may have visitation with their grandchildren. Grandparents facing parental opposition may resort to mediation to negotiate visitation.
Grandparents’ Custodial Rights
Grandparents usually automatically retain legal custody of their grandchildren if deceased parents name them as legal guardians in their wills. However, when one or both parents are alive, grandparents must prove that they can better raise their grandchildren than the children’s parents. For instance, grandparents must prove that the parent’s actions and behaviors are negligent and detrimental to their grandchildren’s well-being. Therefore, parental unsuitability may be due to:
- Substance addiction
- Physical and emotional abuse
- Inability to sustain a child’s basic needs
Grandparents may also obtain custody if a grandchild is already living with them for an extended period with the parents’ permission.
Although the parents’ death may increase the likelihood of grandparents gaining custody of their grandchildren, grandparents may need to contend with other relatives seeking custody. Grandparents must prove their suitability over younger family members, godparents, and anyone close to the child who may offer a better lifestyle. For instance, grandparents may not gain custody if the court finds that another living situation can offer a more comfortable home, better educational opportunities, more financial stability, and access to other children and developmental opportunities.