Grandparents often play an integral role in their grandchildren’s lives. In some families, they might even take on the responsibilities of a parent. Unfortunately, when a couple divorces or separates, the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can sometimes be threatened.

The emotional bond between a grandparent and grandchild can be strong — and judges in California recognize that fostering a relationship with their grandparent may be in a child’s best interests. However, pursuing grandparent’s rights for visitation can also be a complex legal process. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks offers diligent counsel and adept advocacy for grandparents who wish to assert their right to spend time with their grandchildren.

When Can a Grandparent Request Visitation?

Whether they are divorced or separated, parents can allow grandparent visitation, and a court order would not be necessary. But families are often complicated. If the custodial parent decides not to permit the child to have time with their grandparents, or one parent has passed away, a grandparent may be entitled to ask the court for reasonable visitation rights.

If the child’s parents are still married, grandparents typically cannot petition for visitation unless one of the following exceptions applies:

  • The parents are permanently living separately and apart
  • A parent has been missing for more than one month and their whereabouts are unknown
  • A parent joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation
  • The child no longer lives with either parent
  • A stepparent adopted the child
  • One parent has been involuntarily institutionalized or incarcerated

If a grandparent’s rights are based on one of the above circumstances, and the situation changes, the parents can request that the court terminate the visitation order. For instance, if the parents decide to move back in together after having been separated, they can ask the court to end the grandparent visitation.

How to Ask a Court for Grandparent Visitation Rights

To request visitation, a grandparent can file a petition to commence a case in family court. But if an action for divorce, child support, parentage, or a domestic violence restraining order is already pending, the grandparent may ask for visitation under the existing case. Once the petition has been filed, the papers must be personally served on each parent and all parties will have the opportunity to appear for a hearing in court.

It’s essential to understand that a case for grandparent visitation doesn’t necessarily have to be argued in a public courtroom. Mediation can be an effective alternative to litigation with many lasting benefits. Not only can mediating a case alleviate family stress in the future, but it can also help to avoid a protracted court battle — and the considerable expense that can come with it.

During mediation, a neutral third party facilitates healthy communication between the child’s grandparents and parents, who will have an open dialogue regarding their needs and concerns. If they are able to reach a compromise, the parties can enter into a written agreement that will become legally binding once it is ordered by the court. Importantly, a judge will typically require that parents and grandparents attempt to resolve their dispute in mediation prior to hearing their case.

The legal process of obtaining grandparent visitation rights is often confusing to navigate, and having the representation of a skilled family law attorney can make all the difference to the outcome of your case. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks is dedicated to guiding clients every step of the way and ensuring the best possible results are achieved.

What Does a Court Consider When Determining Grandparent Visitation?

California courts automatically presume that grandparent visitation shouldn’t be granted if both parents object — or the parent with sole custody opposes it. This means that the burden of proof is always on the grandparent to establish their case. Specifically, a grandparent must be able to show that their visitation will serve the child’s best interests. Otherwise, they will not be granted visitation rights.

The court will consider a number of factors when determining whether grandparent visitation will be in the best interests of the child, including the following:

  • The child’s well-being, health, and safety
  • Any history of abuse by the person seeking visitation or custody
  • Any history of drug or alcohol use
  • The amount of time the person seeking visitation has spent with the child

Under California law, a grandparent must demonstrate that there is a pre-existing relationship with the grandchild, and such an emotional bond was formed that visitation would be in the child’s best interests. However, a judge would also balance the child’s interests in grandparent visitation against the parent’s right to exercise their parental authority. For cases involving children aged 14 or older, the court may even take the child’s opinion into consideration.

Grandparent Legal Guardianship Rights

Grandparent rights in California do not end with visitation. In situations where a parent is absent or unable to care for their child, a grandparent who has been raising the child may be eligible to seek legal guardianship status. For example, if a child has been living with their grandparent due to a parent’s incapacitation, incarceration, neglect, history of abuse, or any other reason, a grandparent would need a court order to make decisions on the child’s behalf.

A grandparent who has been named a child’s legal guardian is responsible for the child’s daily care, physical well-being, and welfare. Legal guardianship also gives the authority to make crucial decisions that a parent would make, such as those involving education and healthcare. Notably, legal guardianship is distinct from custody or adoption in that the parents of the child retain their parental rights and can ask for reasonable contact. While guardianships typically terminate when the child turns 18, they can also be ended if the parents regain the ability to care for the child.

Contact an Experienced Fresno Family Law Attorney

If you are a grandparent who would like to learn more about your legal rights, it’s vital to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can discuss the facts of your situation. Located in Fresno, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been providing reliable representation for a wide variety of family law issues for over 20 years, including grandparent visitation and legal guardianship matters. call (559) 222-4891 to schedule a no obligation consultation.