Family Ties- Do Grandparents have Legal Rights to Visit their Grandchildren?

With the ongoing splintering of American families, more and more grandparents find themselves assuming greater responsibilities with their grandchildren.  But what happens when divorce, death, custody disputes or family arguments leave the grandparents out of the familial equation?  Do grandparents have any rights to visit their grandchildren once a nuclear family has been dissolved?

Vivian lives in Worcester, MA and is a grandmother to two young children.  For four years, Vivian has cared for both children while her son and daughter-in-law worked full-time.  Recently, Vivian and her daughter-in-law had a major disagreement about providing structure and discipline to the children.  As a result, her son and daughter-in-law terminated their childcare arrangement with Vivian.  Furthermore, she is no longer allowed to visit or contact her grandchildren.   Vivian is devastated and worries what the children will think about the sudden end of their relationship with her.

Courts in every jurisdiction must consider the “best interests of the child” when granting custody or visitation rights to a grandparent.  (Click here for a list of factors.)  However, the MA custody statute does not provide a list of factors for determining the best interests of the child.  Rather, in Massachusetts, grandparents seeking visitation rights must show that denying visitation would significantly harm the child. Blixt v. Blixt, 774 N.E.2d 1052 (Mass.2002)  In other words, grandparents must prove that the child’s health, safety, or welfare will be at risk if he is not allowed to see his grandparents.

A court may award visitation rights if the child’s parents’ marriage is terminated, the parents are separated, one of the parents is deceased, or the child was born out of wedlock and paternity has been established.

Tips for grandparents include focusing on effective communication with the parents and perhaps engaging in family counseling.  When an agreement can’t be reached, grandparents may seek mediation as an alternative to the adversarial court setting.  To find a local mediator please contact your local bar association.

A grandparent should be familiar with the conditions for either custody or visitation before determining whether to file a petition to request either from a court of law. Vickstrom Law does not handle matters concerning grandparents’ visitation rights. We recommend that for more information or to set up a consultation that you contact Attorney James B. Stanton, 34 Mechanic Street, #204, Worcester, MA 01608; (508)-795-7474.

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