Grandparents’ Rights: The Basics
These days, many grandparents play a significant role in raising their grandchildren, and the grandparent-child bonds forged as a result are sacred. But when circumstances change, it may be necessary for a grandparent to pursue custody action to preserve the relationship they have with their grandchildren. This action could be triggered for a number of reasons — from questions around the parents’ caretaking abilities to bad blood between the grandparents and parents to the possibility of divorce. In situations that could result in the parents denying the grandparents any contact with the kids, a request for court-ordered visitation may be desired.
If you’re a grandparent seeking legal custody or visitation, our experienced attorneys are here to help. At Z Family Law, we know how important your relationship is with your grandkids — and we’ll do everything in our power to protect it.
According to the Maryland Family Law Code, grandparents may request visitation with their grandchildren whenever they so choose. At the same time, legal precedent dictates that parents have a constitutional right to raise their children on their own terms, which includes deciding who their children spend time with (and how often). This means that if a parent decides to sever contact between their children and grandparents, that decision will be binding — except when extraordinary factors are at play.
When a grandparent circumvents the parents’ objection in order to seek visitation, they must prove to a court that the parents are ‘unfit’ or that the child will suffer if they are denied access to the grandparent because of exceptional circumstances. Proving damage to a child under this standard can be challenging, therefore requiring additional testimony from professionals such as psychologists, therapists, and court-appointed social workers.
Unsurprisingly, the same presumption that parents have a right to raise their children as they please also means that a grandparent seeking custody of a grandchild faces a high burden of proof. Typically, only extraordinary circumstances — such as substance abuse or dependency, mental illness, physical incapacity, neglect, or abuse — can compel a court to rule that a parent is unfit to care for their children.
Any grandparent who believes they can prove the presence of these factors should file a petition for custody with the court. When evaluating the request, a judge will always prioritize what’s best for the child/children involved. Some factors the court will emphasize are:
- The sincerity of the grandparent’s commitment to having custody
- The impact a change in custody might have on the child
- The child’s age
- The physical/mental health of the child, grandparent, and parent
- The grandparent’s ability to provide a stable living environment for the child
- The grandparent’s relationship with the parents
While our topical knowledge of family structures today might suggest that a grandparent should receive preference over other parties in a custody case, under Maryland law, grandparents in fact have the same legal standing as any other person, such as an aunt, cousin, or even an unrelated third party.
The Role of a Grandparents’ Rights Attorney
Because of the constitutional presumption that parents can dictate who has contact with their children, many grandparents face an uphill battle when deciding to seek custody or visitation. However, custody law is centered around the wellbeing of the children concerned, and there are certainly cases in which it’s best for the children to have an ongoing relationship with their grandparents. Whether it’s attempting to heal your relationship with the children’s parents or settling a custody or visitation dispute, our team of knowledgeable attorneys can help identify and pursue the best legal course of action for you — so all parties can stay involved in the children’s lives in a healthy, meaningful way.
Finding the Right Grandparents’ Rights Attorney for You
As you navigate this challenging time, a trusted legal team who can help you make rational, well-guided decisions is essential. After all, when it comes to safeguarding your relationship with your grandkids, the importance of finding strategic and compassionate counsel focused solely on family law cannot be understated. By combining our vast legal experience, our tenured team can design a tailored strategy to help you take back your power and build the new beginning you deserve.