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Can Grandparents Secure Visitation Rights in Orange County Family Courts?

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California’s Guidelines for Grandparent Visitation

Having strong family ties is important in helping children feel secure, and being around grandparents and other extended family members can be a positive factor in a child’s well-being. Grandparents, in particular, have a special relationship with their grandchildren, and it can be extremely challenging when this relationship is disrupted due to divorce or other family issues. If you are not able to see your grandchildren and believe that it is negatively affecting their well-being, talk with an attorney about whether court-ordered grandparent visitation might be an option.

What Rights Do Grandparents Have in California?

California law does allow grandparents to seek court-ordered visitation but only in specific situations. Just wanting to see your grandchildren more isn’t enough. There has to be compelling evidence that the parents are harming the child by not allowing them to spend time with the grandparents and that court-ordered grandparent visitation would be in the best interests of the child.

Grandparents do not have any rights to petition for custody of the child unless the parental rights have been terminated, such as if the child was removed from the parents’ custody and placed in foster care. In this case, the grandparents could request to be named legal guardians of the child.

How Does the Parent’s Right to Decide Factor In?

Parents have the right to socialize their children as they want, and this includes who they choose to have around their children. This means it can be very difficult to get a judge to award grandparent visitation if the parents both agree that they do not want their child around the grandparents. In fact, the state of California has a presumption that grandparent visitation should not be awarded if both parents do not want it or if a parent with sole legal custody objects.

In order to rebut this presumption, you must be able to show clear evidence of two things:

  • That there is a strong preexisting relationship between the child and the grandparent such that grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child
  • The best interests of the child in having grandparent visitation outweigh the rights of the parents to decide

You will generally need specific documentation of the preexisting relationship, which could include pictures, receipts from expenses when the child lived with you, or statements from teachers or others who can attest to your significant presence in the child’s life. These cases can be challenging, and it’s critical that you have strong legal support from an experienced attorney.

Circumstances Where a Judge May Order Grandparent Visitation

In most cases, grandparent visitation requests are only considered if the parents are divorced or no longer living together as a couple. Grandparents may also be able to request visitation in certain specific circumstances, such as:

  • When the parent has been unable to be located for at least 30 days
  • When the child is not currently living with either parent
  • When the child’s parent has remarried and the child has been adopted by a stepparent
  • When the parent is in jail

Grandparent visitation is most commonly awarded when there has been a divorce or death that prevents the grandparent from seeing their grandchild. For example, if the child’s father dies and the mother cuts ties with the paternal side of the family, the grandparents may be able to petition for visitation if they had a significant relationship prior to the death. If you’re not sure whether your situation warrants filing a petition for grandparent visitation or what steps you should take, call The Bledsoe Firm.

Filing a Request for Grandparent Visitation

There are two ways to file a request for grandparent visitation: filing a joinder and request for an order on an existing case — such as a divorce filing — or filing a completely new case. If the child’s parents already have a divorce or custody case in Orange County, you will generally need to file a joinder on that case. However, if there is no already established court case, you will need to file a new case with your request.

In your petition, you will need to explain to the courts why you believe that ordering grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child and is integral to their well-being. You will also need to explain the nature of your relationship prior to this issue to show that you have been a consistent influence. A hearing will be scheduled to go over your request, and you’ll be able to provide evidence and testimony to support your petition at that time.

Why You Need an Attorney

Parental rights are difficult to overrule, and if you’re trying to get grandparent visitation when the parents object, you need the help of an experienced family law attorney. They can help you understand if your situation qualifies for a grandparent visitation filing and help you anticipate challenges and roadblocks that may come up so you can be proactive. Family law attorneys also have an in-depth understanding of the family law codes in California, which means they know exactly what you need to show to support your case and how to do it.

Working with an attorney can also give you someone to talk to and seek counsel from who isn’t emotionally involved and invested in the situation. Your attorney can provide an objective perspective and explain whether alternative negotiation methods, such as mediation, may be helpful. When you’re dealing with family law cases, the stakes are high, and it’s important to have the support and knowledge of a qualified attorney.

If you’ve been unable to see your grandchildren and you’re considering filing for grandparent visitation, The Bledsoe Firm can help. Call our Orange County office at 949-363-5551 to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys to discuss your case.

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