Far too frequently in today’s world, grandparents may find themselves being pushed out of the lives of their grandchildren, particularly after an event such as a divorce or a legal separation. Often in such circumstances, a custodial parent may try to keep a child away from the grandparents. When a parent does that, it’s painful for grandparents, and it can be damaging to a child as well.
What you are about to read is a brief, general explanation of grandparents’ legal rights in the state of California, but if your own legal rights as a grandparent are being denied or trampled on in Southern California, you will need the personalized legal advice that an experienced Long Beach family law attorney can provide. A good family lawyer can explain your rights and options as a grandparent and help you take legal action if that eventually becomes necessary.
It’s not news that a divorce can be tough on a child. Divorce is precisely the type of situation where a child may genuinely need the emotional support and encouragement that grandparents so often provide. The legal rights of grandparents are honored and respected by California law, so after a divorce, grandparents in this state have every right to ask a court for reasonable visitations with their grandchildren. The court will weigh a variety of factors before making a decision.
WHAT IS A CALIFORNIA FAMILY COURT’S TOP PRIORITY?
In any legal action that concerns a child, the leading priority for California courts is almost always the best interests of the child. However, because of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, grandparents in California (and the forty-nine other states as well) do not have an absolute legal right to visitations, even when those visitations may, in fact, be in a grandchild’s best interests. Why aren’t grandparental visitation rights absolute?
Making grandparental visitation rights “absolute” would infringe on the right of parents to make decisions regarding their children – a more important (or “weightier”) right according to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the year 2000, that court struck down a Washington state statute that explicitly allowed for grandparental visitations – if those visitations were deemed by the court to be in the child’s best interests – even against a custodial parent’s wishes.
However, even in the face of parental opposition, there remain instances where the courts in California may grant limited visitation rights to grandparents. Grandparents may be granted visitation rights such as a weekend a month or a week or more in the summer. In other cases, the visitation rights of a grandparent may be severely restricted, and in some extremely rare cases, grandparents can be kept away entirely from their grandchildren.
WHERE CAN GRANDPARENTS TURN FOR LEGAL HELP?
Obviously, every family is different, and when a grandparent seeks visitation rights, the court must consider the facts, details, and circumstances that make the case unique. If you are a grandparent in southern California and you are seeking the right to visit your grandchild or grandchildren, discuss the details with an experienced Long Beach family law attorney. A good family lawyer can review the case and provide the sound and honest legal advice a grandparent will need regarding your rights and options.
In California, when a grandparent goes to court to request visitation rights, the court will want to know if a pre-existing bond and relationship have been established between the child and the grandparent. If so, that will be helpful to the grandparent’s case. The court must attempt to balance the grandparent’s rights and the child’s best interests with the custodial parent’s right to make decisions about who spends time with the child.
California grandparents who are seeking the right to have visitations with a grandchild should be prepared to tell a judge about the nature of their relationship with their grandchild, to explain why grandparental visitations are in the child’s best interests, and to offer any other evidence or testimony that may help the judge learn more about your special relationship with your grandchild.
Generally speaking, when a child’s parents are married, and the parents and child live together as a family, if both parents are agreed about denying visitations to a grandparent, that grandparent may, in the end, have no legal option. However, and even when the parents are married, there are several exceptions that may open a door for grandparental visitations. If the parents are living separately, if the whereabouts of one parent remain unknown for thirty or more days, or if the child is not living with either parent, it is possible that a court may permit limited grandparental visitations.
WHEN GRANDPARENTS SEEK RIGHTS, IS COURT THEIR ONLY OPTION?
Whether the parents of a child are married or divorced or even unmarried, going to court is not necessarily the only option for grandparents who are seeking the right to visit a grandchild. In fact, it may be best to attempt to resolve these issues outside of the courtroom through mediation, and if you go directly to a California court, the judge will most likely order mediation anyway. Formal mediation can often lower the level of animosity among family members, and it can reduce your legal expenses too.
Mediation is a way to discuss your needs and concerns openly and safely. Moreover, a mediated settlement is often more acceptable to everyone involved than a court-imposed mandate that may leave some family members with resentments and bruised feelings for years to come.
Many California family law attorneys also serve as family law mediators, but if mediation is court-ordered, the court may not allow your own lawyer to take part in the mediation process, so be sure to discuss the process with your attorney first.
When a parent or parents cannot care adequately or appropriately for a child, grandparents may seek legal guardianship. In California, if you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights or requesting guardianship, representation by a skilled and dedicated attorney is imperative.
Family law in California specifies no particular legal path for grandparents seeking visitation rights, so in each case, a grandparent should consult an experienced family law attorney and carefully consider that attorney’s recommendations. Your relationship with your grandchild – and the future of that relationship – is what will be determined when you take legal action.