Grandparents are often an integral part of a child’s life, providing insight, support, and love that can play a crucial part in a child’s development. Unfortunately, sometimes strained familial relationships can lead to broken connections between grandparents and grandchildren, especially when a child’s parents get divorced or one parent passes away.
If you are a grandparent who is experiencing this kind of alienation from your grandchild, you may be wondering if it’s possible to recover your relationship with your grandchild through the courts. Under certain circumstances, a grandparent may seek legal visitation rights to ensure they are able to continue playing an important role in their grandchild's life.
Considering the Best Interests of the Child
The 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Troxel v. Granville required that every state allowing grandparent visitation rights must consider the best interests of the child and cannot assume that such rights are automatically in the child’s best interests.
The courts will consider several factors when deciding whether or not it is in the best interest of a minor child for grandparent visitation rights to be granted. According to Rhode Island General Laws 15-5-24.3, these factors include:
- That it is in the best interest of the grandchild that the petitioner is granted visitation rights with the grandchild
- That the petitioner is a fit and proper person to have visitation rights with the grandchild
- That the petitioner has repeatedly attempted to visit his or her grandchild during the thirty (30) days immediately preceding the date the petition was filed and was not allowed to visit the grandchild during the thirty (30) day period as a direct result of the actions of either, or both, parents of the grandchild
- That there is no other way the petitioner is able to visit his or her grandchild without court intervention
- That the petitioner, by clear and convincing evidence, has successfully rebutted the presumption that the parent's decision to refuse the grandparent visitation with the grandchild was reasonable
In order to demonstrate that visitation rights are in the best interests of the grandchild, a grandparent may be required to prove that there was a preexisting bond between the grandparent and child in question – typically through evidence such as a history of visitation, cards, or letters sent or any other documents or records that can demonstrate an ongoing connection between both parties.
Priority of Parental Rights
Parental rights will almost always be prioritized over grandparent rights. Therefore, the petitioning grandparent will carry the burden of proof to demonstrate that visitation against the wishes of the parent or parents is in the child’s best interests. For this reason, it is critical that a grandparent seeking visitation rights has experienced legal representation to help develop a strategic argument and evidence to support the request.
When a Grandparent Is Granted Custody
In some cases, grandparents can be awarded custody of their grandchildren, especially when the parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child. In certain situations, such as when a parent has passed away, is incarcerated, or is deemed unfit by the court system due to neglect or abuse, a grandparent may be granted legal guardianship and assume responsibility for raising their grandchild.
How McIntyre Tate LLP Can Help
If you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights to your grandchild, the knowledgeable family law attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP can help you navigate the legal steps involved in requesting visitation.
Contact us online or call us at (401) 351-7700 to schedule a consultation
to discuss your case in detail.