When parents divorce, it is not just their immediate family that is affected. Divorce often impacts whole families. When coming to a custody arrangement, both parents typically face reduced time with their children. If one person is granted sole custody, this may significantly reduce parenting time for the other. This reduction of time often extends to the child's grandparents as well.
It is not often discussed how much a divorce could impact a child's relationship with their grandparents. Grandparents are often responsible for childcare or are used to seeing their grandchildren frequently. This means the children develop a significant and meaningful relationship with their grandparents. When their parents divorce, this relationship can be threatened or even blocked.
Losing such an important relationship can be traumatic for both children and grandparents. Knowing what to do in these situations is tough, especially if the grandparents have a difficult relationship with the custodial parent. It is hard to know where to turn when you feel powerless.
However, this situation is not hopeless. While grandparents' rights are somewhat limited, there are circumstances in which you may be able to seek visitation or custody.
How to Seek Grandparent Visitation
The easiest way to get visitation time with your grandchildren is to arrange visitation with their parents. If you are on good terms with both parents, you can ask them to address visitation with you while negotiating their parenting plan. This is potentially a good option if you are responsible for childcare or other child-rearing responsibilities, such as picking a child up from school or serving as the go-between when the child moves between households.
This option is best in amicable situations but may not be possible for all families.
Petitioning the Courts for Visitation
Grandparents do have the option to petition the courts for visitation with their grandchildren. However, before they consider granting the petition, the courts must determine if there was a significant, pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and child and that visitation is in the child's best interest. Additionally, the courts will also address how granting visitation may balance the child's best interests and the parent's rights to make important decisions about their child.
If the child's parents contest visitation with the grandparent, it is not uncommon for the courts to side with the parents. Generally speaking, the courts privilege the parent-child relationship. This can make petitioning for visitation as a grandparent very challenging.
Additionally, grandparents are not generally allowed to petition for visitation while the child's parents are still married. There are a few exceptions to this, including when the child's parents are separated and living apart, or the child doesn't live with either parent. If you are in a situation where you are seeking visitation while your grandchild's parents are still married, speak with a lawyer before proceeding with your petition.
The Process Can Be Complicated; Always Work with an Attorney
Petitioning for visitation as a grandparent is not a simple process. Often, there are already cases open with the family court, and you will have to ask for visitation under an existing case. If there is no open case, you will have to start from scratch. Additionally, in California, there are no specific forms for requesting visitation as a grandparent. Because this process can be difficult to navigate, you should always work with an attorney. Mistakes with paperwork or failure to follow the correct procedure can result in your case being thrown out.
For an overview of the petition process, review the CA court's website here.
Mediation: An Alternative to Petitioning the Courts
Before you even decide to petition the courts for visitation with your grandchild, you need to discuss your situation with an experienced lawyer, like ours at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. After thoroughly reviewing your case, your attorney can help you understand all your options. It may be that going to court is not likely to be successful, and you should try other measures first.
Going to court can make a difficult situation even more contentious. Working with a mediator can help keep the situation calm and allow you to resolve your dispute outside of court. In mediation, a professional mediator will meet with you and your lawyer, as well as the other parties and their lawyers. They will then work with you to negotiate a solution to your problem. The mediator does not make the decision. The goal of mediation is to help the disputing parties communicate more effectively and avoid litigation.Mediation is often less expensive than going to court as it can be handled over a much shorter time period. Typically, the more quickly a case can be resolved, the less it will cost you in legal fees.