Grandparents often play a vital role in their grandchildren’s lives. They may be important role models and are generally people that they can look up to. Of course, grandparents have also been known to spoil their grandchildren from time to time.
Maintaining close family relationships can be difficult when couples decide to separate or divorce. It directly impacts their children’s lives. They may not be able to see or spend time with their friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other people as often as they used to.
Can Grandparents Ask for Visitation?
Grandparents can ask for both child custody and child visitation whenever they want. This may be necessary if one or both parents has been incarcerated, addicted to drugs or alcohol or has passed away. They will need to make their appeal to the respective court.
In those instances, grandparents will usually be treated as a third party. The exception to this rule is if a grandparent can confirm that they are in fact a de facto parent to the child. A de facto parent is defined as a person that a court has recognized as having assumed the role of parent for a child during a certain time period. They have taken on the everyday duties of providing shelter, food, medical care and other necessities for the child, usually for a year or more.
If a grandparent is not a de facto parent for their grandchild, it’s rather unlikely that they will be awarded visitation, especially if the birth or adoptive parents object to their request. Grandparents may need to prove that their involvement in their grandchildren's’ lives is essential for their overall well-being. A grandparent could also bring forth evidence that would support claims that the parents are not fulfilling their children’s needs or otherwise incapable of supplying their children with adequate nutrition, housing, medical care and other necessities. This is also referred to as a burden of proof.
Grandparents may be asked to prove that abuse or neglect of their grandchildren has occurred. Real or perceived emotional trauma, physical abuse or signs of neglect (such as poor school attendance records, a lack of personal cleanliness, excessive weight gain or loss and not having adequate school supplies or clothes) must be proven in those instances. Grandparents should be prepared to prove how being in their grandchildren’s lives directly benefits those children.
The best interests of a child will be taken into consideration when custody requests are made. Courts in the state of Maryland automatically assume that living with their natural parents is ideal for a child. That presumption will not change unless custody requests are made by a grandparent or another third party.
A grandparent may decide to ask for custody of their grandchild for the following reasons:
They are concerned that continuing to live in the parental home could pose significant risk to the grandchild.
The child may be spending a disproportionate amount of time away from their birth parents.
A parent whose parental rights were taken away may have difficulties in correcting any related issues or may not be making a concentrated effort to regain those rights.
The child’s biological parents may have waited too long to actively engage in their child’s life.
There is a history of addiction, mental health issues or other related concerns for one or both parents.
The child may suffer physical, mental or emotional harm if they were forced to continue living with their parents.
Relationships between the child and grandparent may suffer under the current child custody and visitation arrangements.
What Happens If My Grandchild Is Adopted?
Children may be adopted by a stepparent after a birth parent has passed away. If that happens, a grandparent’s visitation rights will effectively end. Those rights will transfer to the adoptive parent. However, it’s possible that the adoptive parent may consent to the existing agreement and continue to allow the child to spend time and interact with their grandparents.
Where Do I Begin?
Grandparents can start by filing a petition. This is a formal request made in writing. The document should list all affected parties and the grandparents’ intentions regarding child visitation and/or child custody.
A visitation schedule should be included in the request. The schedule will clearly state who will have visitation of the child at specific intervals. A judge will review this schedule to determine whether it is acceptable and to ensure that it doesn’t put one or more parties at an unfair advantage.
If a visitation schedule already exists, grandparents can ask to have it enforced or changed as needed. This may occur due to changes in a parent or grandparent’s employment, new school or vacation schedules among other reasons. The court will evaluate this request carefully before making a decision.
Proof of extraordinary circumstances or that one or both parents are currently unfit to resume their parental duties may need to be proven. If not, it’s highly unlikely that any existing arrangements or orders will be changed in any way. Grandparents may need to supply sworn statements or witnesses that can verify their claims.
If the court rules in favor of the grandparents, new orders and visitation schedules may need to be developed. These plans can be created by the grandparents and the children’s parents or decided by a judge. Any new plans should keep the affected children as the top priority, and not be made to punish one party or the other.
Understanding rights can be tricky. If you are a grandparent who has questions about rights regarding your children, we’re here to listen. Feel free to schedule your own no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys can address your concerns and let you know what actions you can take.
Family relationships can be difficult. Some parents may choose to allow grandparents to spend time with and visit their grandchildren whenever possible. Other families just don’t seem to get along, for whatever reason. It’s essential for children to build strong relationships with parents, grandparents and other adult role models that they regularly come into contact with. The overall goal should be to provide a child with people that they can turn to, ask questions of, and receive support when necessary, so that they can grow up to become strong, confident adults. Every child has the potential to accomplish great things. They just need good people who can point them in the right direction.