September 25, 2017

Grandparent Rights?

Thank you to RJ Media Group for publishing this column in the September 21, 2017 edition of The Cheshire Citizen as well as other RJ Media Group publications.

Grandparent Rights?

Imagine these scenes: grandpa is in the driveway teaching his granddaughter to dribble a basketball or grandma and grandson are laughing while they sit at the kitchen table playing cards.  The benefits to each of the generations are both obvious and subtle.

Unfortunately, family life isn’t always so simple – or peaceful.  What if mom and grandma don’t speak to each other?  Or mom and dad are no longer married, or never were married?  Maybe a parent is absent due to death, military service or addiction.  Over the past thirty years I’ve represented grandparents in all these situations.  Although each family was unique, every case had one thing in common-they were all heart wrenching.

How does the law provide for grandparents in those real-life situations?  The law that applies is as complex as the family relationships that it covers.  While we may think of “grandparent’s rights”, the reality is that the law doesn’t focus on rights, but rather a balancing of interests – the interest of a grandparent to have a relationship with a grandchild, the interest of each of the parents to decide how their child will be raised, who will be involved in raising the child and who will associate with the child.  Most importantly, the law places most weight on what is in the child’s “best interests.”

How does the law do that?  The law:

  • recognizes that sometimes, although rarely, it’s in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with a grandparent over the objections of the parent.
  • provides only few opportunities for a grandparent to go to court to seek court ordered custody or, even, visitation.
  • distinguishes between claims by grandparents for custody with claims for visitation.
  • distinguishes between divorced families and families where the parents are not divorced or were never married.

It is very difficult to predict with any reasonable certainty how a grandparent custody or visitation dispute will come out.  That is because it is necessary to apply complex legal principles to disputes that are heavily fact dependent.  To make a reasonably reliable assessment requires not only knowledge of the law and familiarity of the facts in a given case but also the experience and expertise to evaluate how the law and facts relate.

Even if the result of the analysis is that there is a good chance that the grandparents would prevail, there can be no guaranty of success, so the decision to proceed against the grandchild’s parent should be make with great care.  If the grandparent loses the legal case, then the child’s parent, antagonized by the litigation, would control visitation with the grandchild and ultimately, the relationship, if any, with the grandchild.  And win or lose the legal case, a grandparent’s relationship with their adult child will, at the very best, be strained and, at worst, irreparably damaged.  Given those downsides, the smarter approach for a grandparent might be, with the assistance of experienced legal counsel, to negotiate a good enough deal rather that run the risk of trying for a better or the best one in court.

Are you a grandparent or a parent in need of someone to talk to about a challenging custody or visitation issue?  We can help.  I’m available at 203-271-3888.

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