By David A. Shapiro, Esq., Staff Attorney
I’ve been a family law attorney since 1981, and there’s one thing I’ve learned: try not to get into a dispute with parents over visitation.
This is a losing proposition. The nastiest cases that I have involve grandparent visitation. If your son or daughter is deceased, the situation is different. But, if both mother and father are alive and are opposed to you visiting, this can be a big problem. Here are some suggestions to keep from getting into this trap:
- Remember- they are the parents. You may feel that the parents may never be able to take care of a child as well as you could, but don’t forget, you have age and experience on your side. Many of us were not the greatest parents right from the start. The parents may not take your advice, or they may not want your advice. But ultimately, you should remember that parents have the right to parent their children as they see fit, so long as they provide a suitable level of care. Don’t get into arguments over how they parent their children.
- Be patient. Sometimes we expect things to happen immediately and then become disappointed when it does not occur. You may not be invited to the hospital at birth, you may not be invited to the home right after; however, if the parents don’t let you see the baby at all, read my suggestions below.
- Respect boundaries and limitations. Parents may be particular about what the kids eat (sugar!) or whether they get their naps. We’ve found that getting along by going along helps prevent needless litigation.
Okay – but what if they suddenly cut off your access or don’t let you see the kids at all….
Grandparents do have legal rights. They are set forth in the law. Grandparents have the right to apply to the Court for visitation rights. However, this does not mean that visitation is automatically granted! Also, only grandparents may apply for visitation, not great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, or anyone else. Further, unless one of the parents is deceased, the grandparents also have to show that conditions exist in “which equity would see fit to intervene.” What does this mean? No one is really sure – it’s up to each individual judge.
Two things are certain: grandparents must show standing and then show that it is in the children’s best interest to permit visitation. Standing is automatic where the parent is deceased. Otherwise, the grandparent will need to show that they tried to maintain a relationship with the grandchild and had regular contact, or at least sent birthday and Christmas presents, cards, letters, gifts, etc. This is what the law refers to about equity seen fit to intervene. That is, what is the nature and extent of the relationship with the grandchild before visitation was suspended. The next question is whether grandparent visitation is in the children’s best interests. Grandparents will say, oh sure, what can be bad about a grandparent paying attention to their grandchild? However, Courts are very mindful of the stress and hostility that can occur when parents don’t want the grandparents to visit. Some cases have stated that the parents have the right to deny visitation if they want to, especially to avoid continued stress and rancor. Grandparents have been known to overstep their bounds, and that is when fights over visitation occur.
Feel free to call our office regarding kinship matters. If we cannot provide representation we will refer you to the appropriate agency.