Grandparents Rights – Visitation

February 19th, 2011 - Erin Johnston

Mediating Parenting & Child CustodyFor many families in the US, grandparents play a major role in the extended family and enjoy special relationships with their grandchildren. Whether the primary role is one of caretaker or something else, these relationships are generally considered positive and important for all family members.

However, there are times when grandparents – as a result of strained family relationships – find themselves cut off from their grandchildren. For some, longstanding difficult relationships between grandparents and the parents of their grandchildren may further disintegrate and result in a complete alienation. For others, the divorce of the grandchildren’s parents, or the death of one parent, may significantly alter the connection – leaving extended family little chance of spending regular quality time with the children. Whatever the cause, the rift can be quite painful for everyone involved, especially the grandparents.

Unfortunately, some relationships disintegrate so significantly that grandparents start looking for legal intervention to gain specific visitation; they start focusing on “grandparents rights” instead of resolving the conflict.

Grandparents Rights – Can visitation be court ordered?

Like other parenting and custody issues, court-ordered grandparent visitation is addressed on the state level and every state has specifically established guidelines. However, all state statutes regarding grandparents rights are superceded by the 2000 US Supreme Court decision Troxel vs. Granville. This decision asserted that parents have the exclusive legal right to rear their children and determine the nature of their children’s relationships with third parties. In other words, parents cannot be ordered to allow grandparents to visit with their children, except in very specific circumstances. In addition, litigation, or taking parents to court, will do little to resolve the ongoing conflict that resulted in the alienation in the first place.

However, there are things grandparents can do to attempt to resolve the problematic relationship and work towards establishing the desired relationships with their grandkids:

  • Determine if the parents have any willingness to resolve the conflict.
  • Use a mediator to facilitate communication and a resolution everyone agrees to.
  • Respect the rules and wishes of the parents in all interactions with the grandkids.
  • Practice positive communication in all interactions with parents and grandchildren.

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