Grandparents often play a significant and important role in their grandchildren’s lives, giving love, comfort and advice, and sometimes helping out substantially to care for the children while the parents are at work or on trips. Sometimes, however, parents may object to the role or level of involvement the grandparents want to take in the children’s lives. When this happens, how do California laws and courts balance the rights of parents to raise their children with the rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren?
The laws regarding grandparent visitation rights can be found at California Family Code sections 3100-3105. Like most legal decisions where a child is involved, the best interest of the child is a major factor in deciding whether to grant visitation rights for a grandparent. If the grandparent and grandchild had a pre-existing relationship that has “engendered a bond,” the court will likely find that visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild. The court will still balance this interest with the rights of the parents to make decisions about their child. In making its decision, the court may look at a number of factors, including the reasons the parent or parents have for denying reasonable visitation. As the party seeking visitation, the burden may initially be on the grandparents to prove their case over the objections of the parents.
Grandparent Visitation When the Parents are Married
California courts granting grandparent visitation most often do so in a divorce or post-divorce situation. When the parents are married, their parental rights most often always trump the grandparents’ wishes. In some cases, however, the court may even grant visitation to the grandparents over the objection of a married couple. This may happen in the following circumstances:
- The parents are married but living separately
- One of the parent’s whereabouts have been unknown for at least a month
- One of the parents joins in the petition for grandparent visitation
- The grandchild does not live with either parent
- The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent
Just as parties can go to court for a post-divorce modification of a divorce decree such as child support or spousal support when changed circumstances justify a modification, grandparent visitation based on one of the above circumstances can be terminated on petition by a parent if the condition doesn’t apply any more.