Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in California?
Grandparents are family, too. However, there are times when grandparents are separated from their grandkids, and this can occur due to a variety of reasons. This could happen if one or both parents decide to keep the grandparents out of their child’s life. Sometimes, there are legitimate reasons for this. Other times, the reasons are heartbreaking – addiction, incarceration, abuse, revenge, and more.
But do grandparents have any recourse when it comes to gaining visitation rights over their grandchildren? Can the California court system step in and enforce these rights?
Relevant Examples of Grandparent Visitation Controversy
Grandparents can play a significant role in their grandchild’s life. However, we rarely ever hear about grandparent custody battles. Perhaps the most well-known grandparent custody issue arose when there was speculation about whether Meghan Markle’s estranged father, Thomas Markle, announced that he intended to petition the court to allow him to have visitation rights over his grandchildren, Archie and Lilibet.
The reality of that case is that the courts are very unlikely to grant him any rights whatsoever. Mr. Markle has never met his grandchildren and certainly has not established a relationship with them, something that the courts take into serious consideration when examining these cases. Even so, Mr. Markel fired some shots across the bow in 2021 when he insinuated that Meghan and Harry were punishing their kids, using them as “pawns.”
Generally speaking, California law does not immediately grant reasonable visitation with a grandchild. This is initially the case as the court usually recognizes the right of a parent to make decisions regarding the upbringing and parenting of a child. There are, however, certain circumstances in which the court may find that a grandparent has a reasonable visitation with their grandkid.
The Specifications of California Law
One of the first specifications needed is that there is a pre-existing bond between the grandmother/grandfather and their grandchild. This must be a solid relationship, with the purpose of its exception to the rule of not allowing reasonable visitation being that separating the two would endanger a bond between them. This is under the preconceived notion that grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild’s development, generally speaking.
The court’s next challenge is balancing the rate of the parent to make decisions regarding the upbringing of the child and the best interest of the child in regard to visitation from the grandparent. Should the child get little to no gratification from the visitation of a grandparent, the court may deny them visitation rights on the ground that the parents’ right to raise the child in a way they see fit outweighs that of the grandparents, for example.
One of the largest barriers to grandparent visitation rights in the state of California is that they may not be able to file for rights while their grandchild’s parents are married. This is regarded as a safe and stable relationship for the child that is not in need of external interference by the courts. In short, there’s no need for the courts to supersede the decision-making capability of parents and grant unnecessary visitation rights.
Yet California courts may make exceptions, even while the child’s parents are legally married. In the case that the parents are living separately but still married, a grandparent may be granted visitation rights. In addition, should their grandchild be adopted by a stepparent or does not live with either of their parents, it may be seen as beneficial for a grandparent to step in. If one of the parents of the child joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation, they have a greater chance of getting invited to see the child. Finally, in the unlikely scenario that a parent’s whereabouts are unknown for at least a month, the strengthening of a bond between a child and their grandparent may be seen as ultimately beneficial for the grandchild in question.
How the Courts Determine Visitation Rights
Returning to the story of Max and his grandmother, there’s obviously a complex question at hand. On one side, the court may look favorably upon Max’s father’s opinion and right to parent his child. Furthermore, he and his wife are still married, establishing a unified household in the eyes of Max. Max also has a minimal relationship with his grandmother, historically speaking, meaning the absence of her in his life would have a little impact on his livelihood.
On the other hand, Max’s parents no longer live together, and there is a considerable question in regards to the whereabouts of his mother. Maggie has not been able to make contact with her for a considerable amount of time, and she does not seem to be living with her husband and son at their primary residence any longer. While Max and Maggie do not have a significant relationship, Maggie did take briefly care of him when he was younger and believes that he is in need of a proper adult figure amongst the chaos of his troubled home life.
The court’s challenge is deciding how to balance the rights of the parents and Max’s benefit of a right to visitation by his grandmother. While this may not be an easy case, a skilled attorney may be able to come to a resolution for the grandfather. They may argue that the exceptions to the parents’ marriage pact grant her the ability to visit her grandson. Furthermore, the existing bond between Max and Maggie, in addition to the benefits it will serve him throughout his childhood, may be of benefit.
Real-World Implications and their Challenges
Many California families are in a similar position as Max and Maggie, yet varying circumstances call for unique approaches in skilled lawyers to take the reins. Unfortunately, family court is not easy. It is important to enlist the help of an experienced attorney in order to heighten the chances of winning visitation. No matter the reasoning, the same goal must be maintained: ensuring the most healthy and productive environment for the child in question.