Grandparent Visitation Rights
The negative effects of divorce on spouses and children are well-documented, but people often forget that divorces are hard on grandparents, too. Many grandparents have strong emotional ties to their grandchildren, and losing contact with them due to a nasty divorce can be devastating.
Many grandparents already act in a parental role, making things even more difficult in a divorce. Nearly 5 million U.S. children live in households run by grandparents, and about 20 percent of those children (more than 960,000) have neither parent present in the home. Therefore, the grandparent acts as the sole caregiver and provides for the physical, psychological, and financial needs of the grandchildren. Many grandparents support their grandchildren on a day-to-day basis, and even grandchildren who don’t live with their grandparents full-time can suffer from having these emotional ties severed during the divorce process.
If you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights for your grandchild or have questions about your rights, the Law Office of Heath L. Baker is here to help. Call (951) 222-2228 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation to discuss grandparents’ rights with an experienced legal professional. We are proud to represent grandparents in Riverside and throughout Southern California, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf to ensure a fair visitation agreement.
Grandparents’ Rights and California Law
Compared to many other states, California law is relatively friendly to grandparents and their right to visitation or guardianship. A grandparent is allowed to petition the court for visitation rights after the divorce proceedings are over, so long as:
- The court finds that there was a pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and grandchildren
- The court finds that the existing relationship is positive and meaningful and that it would be beneficial for the child for it to continue
- The court finds that granting visitation rights to the grandchild would be in the child’s best interest
If you can prove that you had a positive pre-existing relationship with your grandchildren and that your visitation rights would not infringe upon the parents’ rights, a California court can approve a visitation schedule.
However, there are certain situations in which the court will not want to award visitation rights to grandparents. Visitation rights are typically not granted to grandparents when the natural (or adoptive) parents are still married and caring for the child. Also, if both parents agree that the visits should not be granted, the court will typically not award visitation rights to the grandparent. Essentially, a grandparent’s visitation rights cannot conflict with the custody or visitation rights of the parents.
While California family courts typically do not award visitation rights when the grandchild’s parents are married, there are a few exceptions. The court may choose to award visitation rights when the parents are married if:
- The parents are living separately
- A parent’s whereabouts are unknown (and have been for at least a month)
- One of the parents joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation
- The child does not live with either of his or her parents
- The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent
Obtaining a Visitation Order
Before you start the process of filing for visitation rights, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney. Grandparents’ rights can be legally complex, particularly when the parents of the child are not on good terms with the grandparents, and it is in your best interest to have a solid case before you go to a judge. (In addition, if you fill out the forms incorrectly or do not have an argument prepared, your request may be denied on the first try. Getting back in court for another hearing is time-consuming, expensive, and may not even be possible unless you can show the judge that circumstances have changed substantially since your initial request was denied.)
Here is a quick look at the legal process of requesting visitation rights:
- Find out if there is a family court case open. If there is a divorce case, parentage case, child support case, or domestic violence restraining order case open, a grandparent can request visitation under one of the existing cases. If there is not a case open, you and your attorney will have to open a new family court case.
- Fill out the necessary forms. Grandparents seeking a visitation order must fill out the “Request for Order” form, in addition to any forms needed to open a case (if applicable). This form is the place to explain what kind of visitation schedule you would like and why visitation rights are appropriate in your case. It is important to answer any questions the judge may have when considering the case, such as: why it is in your grandchildren’s best interest to grant visitation; what is the nature of your relationship with your grandchildren; and any other relevant information that can help the judge understand your unique situation. You will also need to explain what type of visitation arrangement you are seeking, which can be done in a few different ways. You can use the “Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment”, explain the type of order you are seeking on a “Declaration”, or attach your proposal for the visitation order.
- File the forms. An attorney who is familiar with the family court system will be able to help you copy the forms correctly and get them filed with the appropriate court clerk.
- Get a court date. The court clerk will usually give you a court date when you file your paperwork. Some court systems require the grandparent seeking visitation and the parents of the child to meet with a mediator before the court date, so make sure to ask your attorney or the court clerk if this applies to you.
- Serve the papers. Once the paperwork is filed, you must give formal notice to the parents, stepparents, or whomever else has physical custody of your grandchildren. This requires having another adult (who is not party to the case) serve each parent with a copy of the appropriate forms and a blank “Responsive Declaration to Request for Order.” The person who serves the papers must fill out proofs of service and file them with the court so there is an official record of the service.
- Go to your hearing or mediation session. The next step is to attend your court date or mediation session, depending on the circumstances of your case. If you and the child’s parents are able to come to an agreement about visitation in mediation, your attorney can turn the agreement into an order for the judge to sign. If you are unable to agree, you can take the case to a judge, who will make the final ruling based on the best interests of the child.
Contact the Law Office of Heath L. Baker
As a Riverside native himself, family law attorney Heath L. Baker is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to Southern California and California family law. He attended California Baptist University and California Southern Law School, and he is a member of the California State Bar, Riverside County Bar Association, San Bernardino County Bar Association, and U.S. District Court in the Central District of California.
Attorney Heath L. Baker has the investigative experience and “home team advantage” that you want on your side. Mr. Baker focuses exclusively on family law, so you can rest assured your case is in the best possible hands. During an emotionally trying time, you can count on Heath Baker to look out for you and your family’s best interests.
If you have questions about your visitation rights as a grandparent, the Law Office of Heath L. Baker is here to help. Attorney Baker is an experienced legal advocate, and he is proud to provide effective, thorough representation for clients throughout Southern California. The legal experts at the Law Office of Heath L. Baker will fight tirelessly to protect your rights as a grandparent, and we will work to come up with a solution that works for you and your family. Call (951) 222-2228 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.