When married parents decide to divorce or unmarried parents split-up, decisions must be made with regard to child custody and visitation. While the courts tend to focus on ensuring that, when possible, a child has access to and the opportunity to form a relationship with both parents; the visitation rights of extended family members are not recognized without a court order.
For a grandparent, a grown child’s divorce or split from a grandchild’s mother or father can be upsetting on many levels. In cases where child custody matters between parents are contentious, a grandparent is likely to have valid concerns about a grandchild’s wellbeing. Grandparents may also worry about whether or not a bitter divorce or split could jeopardize their ability to see and spend time with a grandchild.
Barring a court order, a grandparent does not have legal visitation rights to a grandchild. Ideally, it’s always best when a grandchild’s parents and grandparents can come to an agreement about visitation outside of court. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. In order to obtain a court order, certain conditions must be met and fulfilled.
For example, a grandchild’s parents must be divorced or officially separated. In cases where a grandchild’s parents were never married, a paternal grandparent can only petition for visitation rights if paternity was established. If these basic conditions are met, a grandparent must prove that awarding visitation rights is in a grandchild’s best interest based on a past close relationship or a belief that a grandchild will suffer mental or physical harm if visitation is not granted.
Massachusetts grandparents who want to petition for visitation rights to a grandchild, would be wise to seek legal advice from a family law attorney who handles child custody cases. An attorney can answer questions, provide advice and assist in helping a grandparent fight for the right to see and spend time with a grandchild.
Source: MassLegalHelp.org, “Grandparent Visitation,” Sept. 1, 2015