This holiday season one very important custody question frequently comes up: Do grandparents have legal rights to see their grandchildren? Unfortunately, the answer is not super clear and depends on your particular state. The Supreme Court weighed in on the matter in 2000 in Troxel v. Granville, where it held in a 6-3 decision that a Washington statute which allowed any individual to petition for court-ordered rights to see a child over the custodial parent’s objection, if it was in the child’s best interest, violated the parents’ due process rights to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children. Here are some topics to consider when navigating this issue:
Is your state law restrictive or permissive?
A permissive state is one that allows third parties to seek visitation; a restrictive state only allows petitions if the parents are either divorced or deceased (PA is a restrictive state). Check with a local family law attorney or read the statute to find out the requirements necessary before filing.
Has your grandchild been adopted?
In some states, if there was an adoption, this can effect third party rights and block a grandparent from access to visits with the child. This can even mean adoption by a step-parent.
Are your grandchild’s parents divorced?
Sometimes divorce can be a threshold requirement in order for a grandparent to petition for rights. A state may require that a divorce be finalized before a third party can intervene.
Should you try mediation before court intervention?
In cases where there is bad blood or one parent does not want the grandparent to see the child, mediation can be an option to help mitigate some of that tension. This alternative to going to court can be cheaper, faster and less contentious.