Grandparents are often a significant influence in the lives of their grandchildren. In many households, they even take part in their day-to-day life or play the role of parent. A pending divorce or separation can cause dramatic upheaval to an entire family. Heavily involved grandparents may have their lives turned upside down along with the divorcing parents and their children. Many find themselves desperately seeking information about grandparents visitation rights in California.
Can Grandparents Ask for Visitation During a California Divorce? Parents can always allow grandparents to visit their children. No court order is necessary. The court order becomes a question in cases where parents stop allowing grandparents to spend time with the children. In these cases, grandparents have the right to petition the court to obtain court-ordered visitation. California courts will not accept a petition for grandparent visitation if the child’s parents are still married, except in very limited circumstances: 1) the parents are separated, 2) one parent’s location is unknown (for a month or more), 3) one parent joins the grandparents in their request for grandparent visitation, 4) the child does not live with either one of their parents, 5) a stepparent has adopted the child, or 6) one of the child’s parents is involuntarily institutionalized or incarcerated. When a grandparent is awarded visitation due to one of the above scenarios, and the circumstances change, the parents may ask the court to terminate the grandparent visitation. For example, if a grandparent successfully petitioned the court for grandparent visitation while one parent was incarcerated, the parents can request the order be terminated when that parent is released.
When Does the Court Award Grandparent Visitation? When a grandparent files for visitation rights, a copy of the petition must be served to each of the child’s parents, stepparents, and anyone else with physical custody. Every grandparent visitation case starts in mediation. If the parents and grandparents cannot resolve the issue through mediation, the mediator notifies the court, and the court schedules a hearing. If both parents (or one parent if that parent has sole custody) do not approve of the grandparent having visitation, the judge starts with the assumption that grandparent visitation should not be allowed. The grandparent carries the burden to prove the visitation is in the child’s best interest. When deciding if grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the child, the court considers a number of factors: the child’s health and safety, the child’s wellbeing, any domestic abuse by anyone seeking visitation or custody, any use of drugs or alcohol, and the nature and frequency of contact between the grandparent seeking visitation and the child. If you have questions about obtaining grandparent visitation rights in California, you should contact one of the experienced family law attorneys at The Maggio Law Firm as soon as possible.