Q: I am concerned about grandparent visitation rights. I have not been able to visit my grandchildren at all for many months now; do I have any legal rights to visitation with my grandchildren?
A: Yes, but as with most legal matters, it depends on the specific facts of each situation. In a very general sense, Family Code § 3100 grants the court jurisdiction to award visitation rights to any other person (i.e. grandparents, stepparents, etc.) having an interest in the welfare of the child.
Therefore, grandparents may petition the court for visitation with their grandchildren in the following situations:
• When a parent is deceased (Family Code §3102);
• When there is a pending family law proceeding where child custody is already at issue (Family Code §3103);
• The parents are not married to one another, including after dissolution of a marriage (Family Code §3104)
• The parents are married but are living separate and apart on a permanent or indefinite basis and satisfaction of additional statutory requirements (Family Code §3104)
The central theme that is common to all of the above situations is the obligation of the court to make a decision in the best interests of the children, or in this case, the grandchildren.
Grandparents petitioning the court under Family Code §3102 can only do so when a biological parent is deceased.
Family Code §3103, permits grandparents to petition the court for visitation when a family law proceeding is pending and the issue of child custody is already at issue. However, if a petition is filed under this section, any visitation awarded to a grandparent would automatically terminate upon the court issuing a judgment regarding dissolution of marriage or determination of parentage. Thus, a grandparent would then be forced to file a petition under Family Code §3104.
Grandparents bring a petition for visitation under Family Code §3104 when the parents a legally separated, divorced or living separate on a permanent basis. However, grandparents should be aware that the court must make a threshold determination as to whether a bond or relationship exists between the child and the grandparent. This requires the court to strike a balance between the grandparent’s interest in visitation and the right of parents to exercise authority over the child.
Grandparents petitioning the court under Family Code §3104 may have to overcome several rebuttable presumptions, depending on the wishes of the natural parents of the grandchildren. For example, if the natural or adoptive parents of the grandchild agree that the grandparents should not have visitation, a rebuttable presumption arises that it is not in a child’s best interest that the grandparents should not have visitation rights. [See Family Code §3104(e).] However, case law has stated that this presumption does not apply when one of the parents supports the grandparent’s petition for visitation and the other parent opposes it. (See Marriage of Harris 2004, Cal.4th 210.)
Therefore, as you can see, depending on the unique facts and circumstances of each case, grandparents do have the right to have visitation with their grandchildren.
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