It should be obvious that most child custody and visitation disputes are between the parents of the child or children at the heart of the dispute.
This makes perfect sense, as biological or adoptive parents have the strongest interest in being able to visit their children, and it is usually assumed that it is generally (though certainly not always) in the best interests of the children to have both of their parents involved in their lives, regardless of the marital problems that the parents are going through.
However, according to recent LegalMatch case data, there are also a significant number of grandparents fighting for the right to visit their grandchildren. The law on this subject is fairly complex, and varies from state to state. The first, and most important, consideration is consistent, however: before granting child visitation rights to anybody, including grandparents, a court must determine that it would serve the best interests of the child to do so.
In making this determination, courts will consider a number of factors, such as the nature of the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, whether the grandparent has assumed certain roles normally taken on by parents, whether both parents are currently involved in the child’s life, and several other factors.
The fact that a relatively large number of grandparents are seeking visitation rights raises some interesting questions about society’s concept of family, especially when we let the law define a term which means so many different things to different people.
Do grandparents have some inherent right to visit their children? I would say probably not, or at least not as strong a right as parents have.
On the other hand, grandparents often serve very important roles in the family, which go way beyond spoiling their grandkids at Christmas. After all, older people obviously tend to have more life experience than younger people – this is valuable to children and their parents. Grandparents, who, by definition, have raised children before, can often impart some wisdom onto their children, who can in turn use that to better raise the grandchildren.
Of course, this is not always the case, and every family is different. It seems that if the parents of a child decide, for whatever reason, that a grandparent is not a positive influence in the child’s life, their decision should be granted substantial weight by the courts. However, as mentioned earlier, the ultimate consideration in such decisions should be the best interests of the child.
In the end, the decision to grant someone a right to visit the child against the wishes of the child’s parents is not one to be made lightly. It is well settled that parents have a fundamental right to control how their children are raised. However, this right is not absolute – hence laws against child abuse and neglect. The needs of a child can sometimes outweigh the rights of the parents. This holds true when it comes to visitation – if a grandparent has become an essential figure in a child’s life, they should be allowed to visit the child, the preferences of the parents notwithstanding. Whatever reasons the parents have for opposing visitation should be worked out between the parents and grandparents. After all, every responsible parent sometimes does things they don’t like for the sake of their children (thanks for taking me to see the Power Rangers movie when I was 9, Mom).