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Navigating The Murky Waters Of Grandparent's Rights To Child Visitation

Few things are as stressful as dealing with child custody issues. So often former couples use their children as pawns in a game of trying to get back at each other - and they forget that the children are human beings with feelings and needs. Whenever a child custody battle is particularly messy before one parent wins full custody, the extended family of the other parent will sometimes be cut off from visitation. While it may not seem like it should be legal for the custodial parent to do that, it is - for the most part.

Grandparents can fight for visitation with their grandchildren

For so many grandparents, there is nothing better than their grandchildren. It can be difficult to watch your child go through a divorce or bad breakup, but it is even worse to see them have only limited visitation periods with their children - or worse, ripped out of their life completely. 

Whenever one parent wins full custody of the children, that parent controls who gets to see them on a regular basis. So often they will severely limit, or even stop, contact with their ex's family. That means one half of the children's family tree gets removed from their life. So, in addition to the kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all pay the price for the breakdown of the parents' relationship.

The good news is that, in a lot of cases, grandparents do have rights when it comes to having access to their grandchildren. The law differs from state to state, but usually as long as the child hasn't been put up for adoption, the parents are no longer together (or one is deceased), and the grandparents were a regular presence in the children's lives prior to the split, it can be possible to win some amount of visitation.

However, you need to understand that the court will always consider what is in the best interest of the children.

Taking the custodial parent to court

Unless you can get the custodial parent to agree to visitation or to go through mediation, you will have to take them to court. This can be a bit scary to think about, but so is the thought of never seeing your grandchildren again.

The biggest obstacle you will encounter in court is proving that the children are suffering in some way by not getting to see you. As mentioned earlier, the court looks at what is in the best interest for the children - not necessarily how heartbroken you are that you can't see your grandchildren. It's not that the judge doesn't care how the matter has affected you, but they have to look at doing right by the kids.

Unfortunately, there is no specific way to determine what is in the best interests of a child. Some states have a list of things they have to consider when determining what is in the child's best interests, but not all of them do. Some of the things that the court will consider when determining this include:

  • Are the children's needs being met by the custodial parent? Can the grandparent(s) help meet those needs?
  • What are the wishes of the parent and grandparent(s) in regards to visitation?
  • How strong was the grandparent's relationship with the children prior to the estrangement?
  • How long did the grandparent(s) have this relationship with the children?
  • Is there evidence of child abuse, neglect, or substance abuse by either the custodial parent or grandparent(s) seeking visitation?
  • Have the children had difficulty adjusting to life at home and/or at school after the estrangement?

While it is not required to have legal representation when fighting for the right to see your grandchildren, an attorney with experience in this aspect of family law can help you tremendously.