The bond between a grandparent and a child can be strong, particularly if the grandparent has been a primary caregiver. But that connection does not necessarily bestow any legal rights for visitation should family situations change.
It is important to realize that laws regarding visitation vary from state to state, and courts have wide leeway to do what’s in the best interest of the child.
In general, Missouri law allows for “reasonable visitation rights to the grandparents of the child” under a few specific scenarios, including:
- When the parents of the child have filed to end their marriage, grandparents shall have the right to request the courts to allow for visitation rights;
- When one parent of the child has died, and the surviving parent denies reasonable visitation to a parent of the deceased parent of the child;
- When the child has lived in a grandparent’s home for at least six months within the 24-month period immediately preceding the filing of the petition; and
- When a grandparent is unreasonably denied visitation with the child for a period of more than 90 days, unless the natural parents are legally married to each other and are living together with the child.
A court may order visitation is in the best interests of the child. It may also order the appointment of a guardian ad litem, an attorney who will determine what is in the best interest of the child.
Of course, there are situations where a grandparent decides it is best to seek custody. But it’s important to realize that the law generally sides with parents unless they are deemed unfit or a threat to the children.
The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the question of grandparents’ rights. In the 2000 case of Troxel v. Granville, a divided High Court ruled that a Washington law didn’t give enough deference to parental rights, but did not broadly strike down statutes that allowed for grandparents to seek visitation or custody. In the wake of Troxel, all states still have such laws, though they must weigh the strong deference given to natural parents in deciding what is best for their children.
Disputes over visitation and custody do not have to end in a courtroom. Often the best solution can be mediation. To understand what is best for your family, contact Marler Law Partners for a free consultation. We are dedicated to help good people through hard times.