Grandparents’ Right to Visitation
When parents divorce or separate, the effects of the split extend far beyond the borders of the core family unit. Extended family members are also affected, as visits with the child decrease due to dividing time between parents and the possibility the child may move farther away. Grandparents are especially impacted when families break up, and until recently, they had no right to visitation if a parent chose to block or prohibit contact. Enacted this year, Florida has a new law that permits a court to grant grandparents visitation rights under certain circumstances. A recent news story in the Palm Beach Post looks at the first attempt to apply the law by a grandmother from Orange County who has not been allowed to see her grandchildren since her daughter disappeared four years ago.
When Does the Law Apply?
This law is designed to apply to a select set of cases so that it has minimal effect on a parent’s ability to control who has access to his/her child. The following circumstances must exist before a court can consider whether a grandparent should have visitation rights:
- both parents are missing, dead or in a persistent vegetative state; or
- one parent is dead, missing or in a persistent vegetative state, and the other parent was convicted of a violent felony that includes behavior that could present substantial harm to the child.
As a preliminary matter, if one parent is living, courts will first look at whether the grandparent’s petition sufficiently showed that the parent is unfit or poses significant harm to the child. Assuming this hurdle is successfully overcome, the court will refer the case to mediation, and if that does not produce an agreement between the parties, the court will hold a final hearing where it will determine if visitation rights should be awarded. Additionally, a petition requesting visitation rights for a grandparent can only be filed every two years unless the grandparent can show the child is suffering or could suffer substantial mental or emotional damage from being denied access to the grandparent.
Factors a Court Considers When Assessing the Best Interests of the Child
Before a court will award visitation rights to a grandparent, it must first decide if contact would be in the best interest of the child and would not harm the parent-child relationship. When assessing the best interests of the child, the court looks at the all of the circumstances that could affect the child’s emotional and mental well-being. There is an extensive list of factors a court may consider, and some of them include:
- the strength of the relationship between grandparent and child;
- the length and quality of the relationship, especially the extent to which the grandparent provided regular care and support;
- whether there was a relationship between grandparent and child before the parent died, went missing or entered a vegetative state;
- why the parent prohibited contact with the grandparent; and
- the preference of the child if he/she is of sufficient age to make a reasonable decision.
Ask for Help
Questions about who should have access to your child are very personal and should typically be left to the parent to make. If a non-parent is seeking visitation with your child and you are against it, it is important to retain a knowledgeable attorney to represent your interests in court to help lessen the likelihood visitation will be granted. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A., has a lot of experience in family law matters, and their attorneys are available to assist you. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.