Grandparents Visitation Rights

Grandparents are known to spoil their grandkids, but that’s difficult to do if you’re not allowed contact with the children. For whatever reason it might be, you may have been stopped from seeing your grandchildren. Petitioning for grandparent visitation rights is possible, as long as you have the right circumstances in California. This webpage will discuss the following topics surrounding this issue:

  • What Does California Law Say About Grandparent Visitation Rights?
  • When Can Grandparents Request Visitation Rights?
  • Parents Are Allowed to Make Their Own Decisions
  • Grandparents Visitation Rights After the Child is Adopted
  • Requesting Child Custody as a Grandparent
  • Consult with a Family Attorney

Grandparent Visitation Rights | JS Family Law Attorney

What Does CA Law Say About Grandparent Visitation Rights?

Most parents allow their children to have a relationship with the grandparents, but for various reasons some parents may not. There are situations that make a parent want to cut off ties with the grandparents, whether righteous or not. When this happens, grandparents can petition to have grandparent visitation rights.

When the California family courts deal with cases involving children, like custody or parental visitation rights, the judge considers what is in the child’s best interest. What this means in a petition for grandparent’s visitation rights is that the judge deems a relationship between the grandparents and the child must be beneficial to the child. If both parents object the grandparents’ interacting with the child, the court will presume that there is a reason that the visitation will not be in the child’s best interest.

Petitioning for Visitation

  1. The grandparent(s) must file a petition with a California court.
  2. Serve each of the child’s parents the petition, including: mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, and any other person that has physical custody of the child.
  3. Courts will automatically push these visitation cases to mediation. If the cases isn’t settled through mediation, then the mediator will let the court know. A hearing date will be set to have a judge hear the case.

At the start of a court hearing, a judge will naturally assume that the grandparent should NOT be allowed visitation rights, if both parents don’t think that the grandparent should be able to visit.  The burden of proof is on the grandparents; they need to prove to the court that building a relationship with the child is in the child’s best interest. As with child custody cases with parents, factors regarding the child’s best interests that the court considers are:

  • Health, safety, and wellbeing of the child
  • The grandparent’s history of domestic abuse (see the following case: In re Marriage of Harris)
  • If there is a history of drug or alcohol use
  • If the child and the grandparent already have contact and how the relationship between them are

If there is a relationship between grandparent and grandchild, then the judge will take this preexisting relationship into deep consideration. To grant the grandparents visitation rights, continuation of this relationship must be in the child’s best interest. Of course, as mentioned previously, the court also takes into consideration the parents’ reasons for not wanting to allow visitation. If the child is at least 14 years old, the judge will also consider that child’s opinion in this.

Once the grandparent visitation rights are granted, the judge may order the grandparents or parents to pay limited child support. This is different than the child support required by parents; for more information on that type of support visit our child support webpage. This limited child support would be to cover transportation, medical, day care costs, or any other necessities to make this visitation happen. Transportation costs are usually for when the child would need to fly or take some other form of transportation to visit with the grandparent; grandparents may be required to pay these costs to the parents.

Visit the California Courts website to download the forms needed for filing a petition, or call to talk to our family law attorney.

When Can Grandparents Request Visitation Rights?

Grandparents can request visitation rights in several circumstances[1]:

  • When one of the child’s parents have died
  • When the parents are involved in a pending child custody case, during divorce. In order for the grandparent to petition for visitation rights, it must be during the pre-judgment period
  • When the parents are not married to each other. This includes cases with paternity and divorce cases that have ended the marriage
  • When the parents don’t live with each other, but are still married. The separation must be indefinite or permanent

The Balancing Test

When the parents are not married, the court uses a balancing test in determining grandparent visitation rights. This is when the court determines if the grandparent and the child have a bond that is beneficial to the child. The judge uses that bond or lack of to balance with the parent’s rights to allow visitation; when brought to court, the judge has the discretion to decide on visitation.

If the parents are married and the grandparents are petitioning for visitation rights, it’s a little more complex. In this case, one or more of the following must be the grandparent’s situation:

  • The parents do not live together, either permanently or indefinitely
  • One parent has been out of the picture for more than a month and the other parent has no idea of his/her whereabouts
  • One parent is supportive of the grandparents’ rights to visitation
  • The child does not live with either of the parents
  • A stepparent has adopted the child

One of the five situations above must apply in order for the court to grant the grandparents visitations rights. However, at any point in time, if things change and none of the five situations no longer apply, the court must terminate the grandparents’ rights if the parents request it to be revoked.

Parents Are Allowed to Make Their Own Decisions

The court will assume that the parents are fit and sound parents raising the child properly, until proven otherwise. So, because of this, the court heavily considers the parents’ choice to allow or not allow a relationship between grandparents and child. The grandparents who are petitioning for grandparent visitation rights must clearly show significant evidence that the child’s best interests are the top priority in this request.

Grandparents Visitation Rights After the Child is Adopted

When parents have given up their child for adoption, the all relationships/rights of the previous family are legally terminated automatically. However, if the adoption of the child is by a stepparent or another grandparent, the grandparent visitation rights may still be in effect. In the case that a child is removed from the parents’ custody, the judge must also decide if the grandparents should still be able to visit with the child.

Requesting Child Custody as a Grandparent

When visitation is not enough, a grandparent may also request to have custody of the child. Of course, the situation must call for such action, such as if the child is in immediate danger being under the care of his/her parents. The California family courts can grant child custody to the grandparents if they can provide a good and nurturing environment for the child to grow up in. Commonly, if the parents cannot take care of the child well, the child will live with the grandparents. If this is the situation, the grandparents will have legal custody of their grandchildren. If you’re seeking child custody of your grandchild or grandchildren, visit our guardianship page and child custody webpage for more information.

Consult with a California Family Attorney

If you have questions about gaining grandparent visitation rights, contact a California family law attorney as soon as possible. Grandchildren are precious. Work with a great child visitation lawyer who knows the ins and outs of family law. We know that you want to be there with your grandchildren, so let’s work together to make that happen. Give us a call today for a free consultation to see how we can help you with your family circumstance.

[1] California Family Law Code § 3102