What You Should Know About Visitation Rights for Grandparents

Granddaughter and grandfather hugging and smiling.

A divorce can be hard on the whole family beyond parents and their children. Grandparents often feel the pain of this separation in their family, especially if it proves to impact their access to their grandchildren.

Most grandparents wish nothing more than to be part of their grandchildren's lives, but this can become difficult if the parents' separation has made it harder to see or connect with the kids. In my families, parents continue to make time for their children to see their grandparents on a regular basis, yet it's not always this easy. Conflict between parents, or between parents and grandparents, can make it complicated. This makes it essential to understand what rights grandparents have legally to visit their grandchildren.

A Grandparent's Rights to Visitation

Today, laws regarding grandparents' right to visitation differ between states, but many states. While many states don't provide a list of factors that will be considered concerning a child's best interests, certain factors are commonly considered in cases related to grandparents' visitation. These common factors often include:

  • Preserving a relationship already established between the child and their grandparents. If grandparents have historically had a close relationship with the child or provided care, this could support their case for visitation rights.
  • Upholding the safety of the child when in the presence of their grandparents. For instance, grandparents' visitation rights could be impacted if their residence is deemed unsafe or unfit to host children.
  • The physical and mental needs of the child. Grandparents should be capable of meeting the child's needs and upholding their well-being during these visits.

Maintain decisions made by parents. This may become a factor if parents have previously decided to restrict grandparents' access to the child.
Many states' laws regarding grandparents visitation were impacted by Troxel v. Granville, a Supreme Court case from 2000. In this case, grandparents were petitioning for visitation rights after the mother of their grandchild significantly limited their visitations. The Supreme Court ruled that parents have a constitutional right to determine the upbringing of their children.

The resolution of this case turned down a law in the state of Washington that had allowed any person to petition for visitation rights despite objections from the child's parents. In turn, this decision caused other many other states to change their laws to more greatly restrict who could petition state courts for visitation.

Grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchild should keep in mind that if they live in a different state than their grandchild, the

grandparents should look to the visitation laws within the state where their grandchild resides.

Examples of State Laws for Grandparents' Visitation Rights

Generally speaking, some state laws on visitation are restrictive in that grandparents are only allowed to seek visitation rights if the parents have divorced or one or both has died. Florida is one such state with particularly restrictive laws regarding grandparent visitation.

As of 2015, Florida grandparents can sue for visitation if their grandchild's parents are missing, in a vegetative state, or deceased. They may also petition for visitation if one parent is deceased, but the other has been convicted of a felony or a violent offense that could threaten the child's health or welfare.

Other state laws are more permissive in regards to grandparent visitation rights, such as in California. In California, a grandparent can request that the court grant reasonable visitation with their grandchild if a pre-existing relationship was established between the two and if the court finds visitation in balance with the best interests of the child plus within the parents' rights to make decisions for their child. While California grandparents cannot petition the court for visitation rights if their grandchild's parents are married, they can request visitation if the parents are living separately.

Another state with more permissive grandparents visitation laws is New Jersey. In this state, grandparents can petition for visitation with their grandchild even if the child's family is still intact. Whether the family remains together or is separated due to a circumstance like a divorce, grandparents in New Jersey must prove that visitation it is in the best interests of the child using a list of specific factors, which you can learn more about here.

Making the Most Out of Visitation with Grandchildren

The relationships built between grandparents and grandchildren can often be very special, and many parents would agree that it's important to allow these relationships to develop and thrive. Separation or divorce can sometimes make it harder for grandparents to see their grandchildren with the same frequency as before. Even so, it's important to that grandparents make the most out of the time that they do have to spend with their grandchildren.

If the parents of your grandchild are going through a separation or divorce, remember to stay neutral for your grandchildren and keep up your relationship with your grandchildren as best you can. Things might start to change like family events on special occasions or even the amount of time you get to spend with your grandchildren in general.

If you feel that you can and should seek legal action to regain time with your grandchildren, consult with a family law practitioner, such as an attorney, to discuss what your rights are to visitation in the state where your grandchildren reside. 

For grandparents who do have visitation with their grandchildren, and for parents who are helping to facilitate these visitations, consider these tips to help the children to enjoy their time with their grandparents to the fullest.

  • Keep visitations smooth and regular. Work to create a regular schedule of visitations that works for everyone involved without putting too much strain on anyone's schedule, especially the children's personal agendas that include school and extracurricular activities.
  • Be polite. During pickups, drop-offs, and even when planning a visitation schedule, be kind. It can be hard to remain cordial if there is conflict that exists between a parent and a grandparent, but do your best for the children.
  • Think about what the kids want to do. Consider their ages and development when coming up with a plan for how to spend the visitation time. Older children may have different interests than younger ones, so think about how you can accommodate everyone involved and have a great time.
  • Don't speak negatively about each other in front of the children. Allow the children to form their own opinions and build personal relationships with family members, as long as doing so does not put their safety into question.
  • Keep everyone in the loop. Make sure that everyone involved in the visitation schedule is kept informed of family plans and other important considerations. Maintaining a shared family calendar and secure communication platform can be a big help here.

Grandparents can play a critical role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. Even if they aren't directly involved in their day-to-day lives, it can be so special for kids to get to spend time with their grandparents and learn what they can from their experiences together.

For grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchildren, it's crucial that they start by understanding their grandchild's home state's specific laws about visitation rights for grandparents. If visitation is granted by the parents of the child or by the court, make the most out of your time with your grandchild to help foster positive experiences and childhood memories that the kids can happily look back on.