It’s not uncommon for grandparents to assume a very strong parental like role for their grandchildren.  Many grandchildren see their grandparents daily, whether it be due to their parents living with their grandparents, living near their grandparents, or allowing the grandparents to take on many of the day-to-day responsibilities of their children due to the parent’s other obligations such as work, school, absence, etc.

But what happens when the grandparent’s relationship with the child is interfered with?  This is likely to happen if:

  • The parents are divorced or otherwise living separately;
  • The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent;
  • The grandparents and one or both of the parents do not get along;
  • A parent’s whereabouts are unknown (and have been for at least a month);
  • A parent is incarcerated;
  • A parent dies;
  • A parent is away due to service in the military;
  • The grandchild does not live with either of his or her parents(the child is living with a guardian/caretaker).

When one of the above situations arise, it’s not uncommon for one (or both) parents or the child’s caretaker to suddenly decide to deny the grandparent the right to see their grandchild.  Although the grandparent may have been actively involved in their grandchild’s life, if the parent/caretaker decides to put their involvement to a stop, what are the grandparent’s options? Does that mean they will no longer enjoy their relationship with their grandchild? Does that mean that the grandchild’s bond with their grandparent will suddenly be cut off regardless of how this affects them?

The good news is: many states recognize some form of grandparent’s rights-California is one of them.  The bad news is, exercising your rights as a grandparent isn’t as simple as filling out a form and demanding such.  Just like non-custodial parents often have to go through what can feel like a drawn out process to establish and maintain their rights to custody/visitation, grandparents must go through a similar process.

In California, grandparents can request that the court order reasonable visitation.  The key here is that most courts will not grant visitation to a grandparent unless they can establish two things:

1)    The grandparent has already developed a relationship with their grandchild and has established a bond with them. In other words, the court is not likely to grant visitation to you for a child that you have never had any contact or bonded with.  These rights are essentially established by a relationship between the child and the grandparent, which could possibly be detrimental to the child if that relationship is suddenly terminated without cause.

For example: If a child has been spending time with their grandparents every weekend, and the parent(s) suddenly refuse to continue to allow the child visit their grandparent, this could devastate that child.  After all, the relationship children have with their grandparents is often one unlike any other, they get to do and learn special things, they get to spend time with extended family, etc. Abruptly cutting off this bond will likely not be in the child’s best interest, and upon showing that this type of relationship exists between the child and grandparent, the court may order visitation against the parent’s challenge.

2)    That it’s in the best interest of the child to have visitation with the grandparent, notwithstanding the rights of the child’s parents to make decisions about their child.  Typically, when it comes to raising children, the child’s parents have all rights to make decisions.  This right, however, can be disrupted to a certain extent, however, when the court system gets involved; once they are involved, it’s no longer completely about the parent’s preferred decisions- it becomes about what the court believes is in the best interest of the child.  In making this determination, the court will look at the full picture: Why is the grandparent being refused time with the child? What role have the grandparents played in the child’s life so far? Or even, what is the child’s preference?-Do they want to continue their relationship with the grandparent?, Where is the other parent and do they object to the grandparent-grandchild relationship too? etc.  If the court determines that notwithstanding the parent’s objection to the grandparent’s relationship with the child, that the relationship is still in the child’s best interest, the court can then grant visitation to the grandparent over the parent’s objection.

So, if you have a bond with your grandchild, and are being denied the right to continue that bond, it’s likely worth a shot at requesting that the court legally grant you the rights to visit with your grandchild in the form of a court order, so your rights can officially be established, and not violated in the future.