California Grandparents’ Rights 101

Families separate for many different reasons: divorce, death, substance abuse, or incarceration, just to name a few. When those situations occur, most people think about which parent will get custody of the children. But what about the grandparents? Do they have legal rights? The short answer is yes, they do have certain legal rights and can seek visitation with grandchildren or even obtain custody. While every state requires courts to consider the best interest of the child before awarding custody or visitation to grandparents, the relevant laws vary. Below we provide an overview of the rights of grandparents in California.

When do Grandparents have rights?

Although grandparents have rights to file for visitation, they generally can’t do it while the child’s parents are still married. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule as below:

  1. The parents live separately;
  2. A parent’s whereabouts are unknown (for at least one month);
  3. One of the parents joins in on the grandparents’ petition for visitation;
  4. The child doesn’t live with either parent; or
  5. The child has been adopted by a stepparent.

If one or more of these conditions are met, then a grandparent can petition for visitation rights with the court under California law. In general, a grandparent may then ask for reasonable visitation with a grandchild, but the court will have to make a couple of determinations first. They will do two things:

  1. The court must find that the grandparent has a pre-existing relationship with the grandchild that has “engendered a bond.” This basically just means that there is a measurable bond between them so that visitation is in the best interests of the child.
  2. The court will also always balance if it is in the best interests of the child to have visitation with a grandchild with the rights parents have to make the best decisions for their own children.

Another important note is that adoption does not automatically cut off the visitation rights of grandparents, but it certainly makes the situation that much more complex. It’s also important to remember that if there is a change of circumstances such that none of the above circumstances apply anymore, then the court must terminate grandparent visitation if the either parent requests it.

Consult with an experienced family law attorney.

Petitioning and obtaining grandparent visitation can be a complicated and confusing process. The courts will not grant it if there is a likelihood that it would interfere with the parent-child relationship or if they believe it is not in the best interests of the child. At the Carroll Law Office, we understand the sensitive nature of handling visitation requests and issues. If you have any questions about your rights to visit with your grandchildren, how to enforce them, or advice about where you can get started, please don’t hesitate to contact us today!