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As a Grandparent, Can You Legally Gain Visitation to or Custody of Your Grandchild?
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As a Grandparent, Can You Legally Gain Visitation to or Custody of Your Grandchild?

When the parents of children get divorced, or when they have a dysfunctional home, the grandparents, in many cases, can assert a right in court to gain visitation or custody. This article looks at the principles involved in grandparental custody and visitation cases.

Grandparents tend to have a cherished relationship with their grandchildren. When their children, the parents of their grandchildren, seek to get divorced, however, they can be confronted with complications over their ability to spend time with their grandchildren. It’s important for grandparents to understand that their rights, when it comes to their grandchildren, is protected under the law.

When you visit a family lawyer to assert your right to visit your minor grandchildren or gain custody of them, the lawyer will first need to take stock of the situation. What is kind of relationship do you have with your grandchildren? Do they live with you? Do you support those grandchildren financially, or do they have special needs that the parents aren’t taking care of?

Grandparents and their rights when it comes to their grandchildren

When a father or mother of minor children dies, the right of the grandparents to visit their grandchildren can become a point of contention, especially when the parent still living doesn’t want to see the relationship continue. Grandparents can ask the law for permission to continue their relationship with their grandchildren, however. What grandparents can’t do, however, is to attempt to seek court intervention to visit a grandchild when both parents, alive and together, are against it.

In general, courts tend to make it possible for grandparents to visit their grandchildren if they share an affectionate bond through regular contact, and if being cut off would adversely affect the child. Rights to visit grandchildren may also be granted to grandparents if it is established that they helped financially support the grandchildren over at least 12 months, or if the grandchildren lived with their grandparents for a period of at least six months.

Attempting to secure custody

Many grandparents find themselves in positions in which they need to parent their grandchildren. The opioid and alcohol addiction crises have especially made it necessary for many grandparents to adopt parenting roles. One US Census Bureau report (census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2019/demo/sehsd-wp2019-04.pdf), for example, finds that in 2016, more than 2 million grandparents took primary care of their grandchildren.

In general, grandparents can obtain charge of their grandchildren in several different circumstances:

  • If the children have been abandoned, or aren’t provided for.
  • If it can be established that the children have suffered cruelty at home.
  • If the parents consent to allowing the grandparents to adopt their grandchildren.
  • If the parents sign a voluntary release to allow the grandparents custody of their grandchildren.
  • When a court terminates a father’s parental rights as part of divorce or custody proceedings.

In general, judges tend to protect the right of a parent to retain custody of their children. It is also considered the best choice for children to allow them, as far as possible, to remain with their parents. This assumption may be questioned, however, when grandparents are able to show that it would benefit the grandchildren to grow up with their grandparents.

Grandparents can gain visitation or custody rights in specific cases, but they need to put a convincing case together. A lawyer experienced in family law could be a valuable ally in the process.