In California, grandparents’ rights to visitation depend on the parental rights and custody of the minor child. However, when grandparents want to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren contrary to the wishes of the parents, the law allows them to seek court-ordered visitation. To establish visitation rights, grandparents may need to prove a close relationship with the grandchild. They must also show that their involvement in the child’s life is in the child’s best interests. But the constitutional right of parents to make decisions is prioritized.
Petitioning for grandparent visitation
Grandparents may petition for visitation with their grandchildren in the following situations:
A parent is deceased: When a child whose biological parent is deceased, grandparents can petition the court for reasonable visitation time. In granting visitation in these situations, the court must find that visitation is in the best interest of the minor child.
There is an open family law proceeding: Grandparents may petition for visitation if a dissolution, nullity, parentage, or other family law proceeding is pending before the court wherein child custody is already at issue. Again, the court must find that visitation is in the best interest of the minor child.
The parents are not married, or are living separately and apart: When the parents are not married to one another or the parents are married but living separate and apart on a permanent or indefinite basis, a court may order grandparent visitation but only if the court: (1) finds that there is a preexisting bond between the grandparent(s) and the child such that visitation is in the child’s best interest and (2) balances the child’s interest in having grandparent visitation against the parents’ right to exercise paternal authority.
When petitioning for visitation rights, it is critical for grandparents to understand that they bear the burden of proof, i.e., the grandparent must prove that the requested visitation is in the child’s best interest and that the child will suffer a harm without such visitation, despite any parental objections. Grandparents must also show that their presence in the child’s life is beneficial.
Factors considered in determining grandparent visitation
There are many factors the court considers when making a determination regarding grandparent visitation rights including: history of substance abuse; history of domestic violence; history of child abuse or neglect; the child’s overall health and wellbeing; type and frequency of grandparent-grandchild communications; the child’s preference, if any, permitted they are old enough to express it; and, the existing relationship between the grandparent and the child’s parents. The court balances these factors in determining whether grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the minor child.
An attorney can provide invaluable support to grandparents seeking to assert their rights over their grandchildren. Similarly, an attorney can advocate for the grandchildren’s best interests, ensuring that any legal proceedings consider their needs and well-being. Contact the law office of Bartholomew & Wasznicky LLP to see how a family law attorney can assist you with your grandparent visitation case.