Grandparents can be awarded visitation with their grandchildren through the court if the grandchild’s parents are separated or either parent dies. There are also a very limited set of circumstances where grandparents can be awarded visitation even if the grandchild’s parents are still married.
Grandparents may be granted visitation upon separation of the child’s parents if the court determines that visitation would be in the child’s best interest. The court takes into consideration the amount and quality of the personal contact of the person seeking visitation before and after application of the order in determining the best interest of the child. The Family Code states the court may grant visitation if the court finds there is a preexisting relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild that has engendered a bond such that visitation is in the best interest of the child and the court balances the interest of the child in having visitation with the grandparent against the right of the parents to exercise their parental authority. There is also a presumption that a fit parent will act in the best interest of the child. If a parent objects to visitation, the burden is on the grandparent to prove by clear and convincing evidence that visitation is in the child’s best interest.
In the case of Rich v. Thatcher, the court denied visitation of a child by his paternal grandmother when the mother of the child objected to visitation and the grandmother failed to show that it was in the child’s best interest to have visitation. Rich v. Thatcher (2011) 200 CA4th 1176. The court determined that grandmother failed to show a deep and abiding relationship with her grandchild and that their relationship prior to grandmother filing her request for visitation was limited to father’s periods of supervised visitations with his son where grandmother acted as the court appointed supervisor of visits. It was also found that grandmother and mother did not get along because grandmother disagreed with mother about father’s long term drug use, which led to his death. Moral of the story is that if you do not have a substantial relationship with the child before the death of a parent, or the separation of the parents, your chances of being granted visitation upon application are not going to fare as well as if you had a substantial relationship with the child.
Visitation is not just limited to grandparents if a parent dies. If either parent dies, the deceased parent’s children, siblings, parents, and even grandparents may be granted reasonable visitation upon a finding visitation would be in the child’s best interest.
If parents agree that they do not want grandparents to have visitation, the burden shifts and there is a rebuttable presumption that visitation with grandparents is not in the best interest of the child.