How to Get Child Visitation: For Grandparents

As a grandparent, it is natural to wish to be in the life of your grandchildren. Unfortunately, sometimes this becomes a difficult issue if you are being denied the right to visit. You can sometimes compel visitation by petitioning the family court in your state, but the rules for granting such a petition vary. If you wish to file a lawsuit to compel visitation, you may want to consult an attorney experienced in family law issues.

The Law About Grandparent Visitation Rights

A case entitled Troxel v. Granville was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2000 in response to a Washington law that permitted third parties (usually grandparents) to sue for visitation rights. The court in Troxel v. Granville ruled that parents "...[have a] fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” This means that the decision of whether a grandparent will have a right to visit with a grandchild is generally made by the parent. 

However, some states continue to provide at least a limited an opportunity for grandparents to file a suit to compel visitation when the custodial parent won't permit it. The way in which states treat grandparent rights can broadly be divided into three categories:

  • Grandparents in most states can become a party to an action brought by a child’s parent.
  • If a grandparent has acted in a parental capacity at some point in a child’s life, s/he will generally be permitted to file a suit in most states to compel visitation. This is the rule in Connecticut, for example.
  • Even if a grandparent has not acted as a parent, sometimes s/he may still be able to bring an action to compel visitation in some states, e.g. Massachusetts. Paternity testing is sometimes required first - particularly if the parents were not married and the grandparents are paternal grandparents.

 What You Must Prove as a Grandparent to Get Child Visitation

In cases where a grandparent is able to petition the court for visitation, there are certain requirements in place before the petition will be granted:

  • The grandparent(s) will need to prove that it is in the child’s best interests for visitation to be enforced by the court.
  • In some cases, this means simply proving that the child will be better off with mandated visitation.
  • In states that afford grandparents the least protection, the grandparent may actually have to prove that it will be harmful to the child to deny visitation.

You may also need to prove that you have been unreasonably denied visitation by the custodial parent. In Missouri, for example, a grandparent will be required to prove that s/he has been unreasonably denied access to the grandchildren for a period of 90 days or more.

Exploring Your Options as a Grandparent

Your best bet is usually to have your right to visitation included as part of a divorce or separation agreement that the parents agree to. If your child has already agreed to a divorce agreement that does not provide for mandated grandparent visitation, then your child may be able to petition the court for a change in the agreement, even if you can’t.

You will want to collect as much evidence as possible if you hope to successfully compel visitation, regardless of who does the petitioning. Evidence such as eyewitness testimony proving the strength of your relationship with your grandchild, as well as evidence that your visitation rights have been denied, will all go a long way towards helping your case.

Getting Help

Because the laws differ by state, and because getting visitation as a grandparent can be an uphill battle, you will want to speak with a lawyer if you are considering embarking on a suit to compel visitation with your grandchildren.