Statistics show that in the United States alone, over 2.7 million grandparents raise their grandchildren. While this is the case, millions of other grandparents have no access to their grandchildren, mainly because of the high divorce rate. Sometimes, the custodial parent may decide to cut off a spouse and their family altogether. In such instances, a grandparent in Los Angeles, CA, has a right to request the court to grant them visitation rights. Grandparents also have a right to ask for the custody of their grandchildren if they have reason to believe that this would be in line with the best interests of the involved kids. At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we can help you understand your rights and represent you if you need grandparent custody or visitation rights.
Matters of child custody and visitation are complicated for the parents undergoing legal separation or divorce. These matters tend to become even more complex for grandparents. Bear in mind that while California laws have clear guidelines that enforce parental rights to custody, involvement, and visitation, these guidelines don’t always apply to other parties, including grandparents.
Grandparent Custody and Visitation Rights Overview
Unfortunately, the rights of grandparents over their grandchildren are not a clear-cut issue. If a child’s parents undergo a divorce, a grandparent who has grown fond of the kid in question may be at risk of never seeing them again.
Even though California gives grandparents certain legal rights over their grandchildren, the interpretation of these rights is relatively shallow. This makes it imperative for grandparents to work with skilled family law attorneys to have custody or access to their grandchildren. An attorney can help protect the relationship you have with your grandkids and also guide you on what to do if you are concerned about their well-being.
The History of Grandparents’ Rights
Today, all states in America have a grandparent visitation statute. This law allows grandparents to petition a court and request a legal right to maintain contact with their grandchildren. While some states can only grant visitation when a child’s parents are undergoing a divorce, the laws in other states are less restrictive, allowing the courts to consider giving visitation even if the parents of a child are still married.
What is common in all states is that grandparent visitation and custody rights can be enforced if this is seen to be in the best interests of a child. In California, the courts can grant reasonable grandparent visitation rights if the parents are divorcing. This is irrespective of whether one or both parents object.
There is a rich history behind the issue of grandparents’ rights in the United States. Once, there was a couple named Brad Troxel and Tommie Granville, and they had two lovely daughters. The couple became estranged, and later Brad Troxel died. All along, Brad Troxel’s parents maintained strong ties with their grandchildren and visited them regularly even after their son’s death.
After a while, Tommie Granville remarried and limited grandparent visitations. Brad Troxel’s parents had no choice but to go to court. During the trial, the courts agreed to grant visitation as long as grandparent visitation rights were in the best interests of the Troxels’ daughters.
Because state laws that touch on visitation rights are too broad, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with this ruling. This is because giving grandparents visitation rights was seen to infringe on the fundamental rights of parents to make the decisions they deem fit for their children. Today, the laws only allow the courts to make a ruling that balances both parental rights and the best interests of a grandchild.
Moreover, grandparent visitation rights can only be enforced if the grandparents in question and their grandchild already have an existing relationship. Grandparents can, however, petition for grandchild custody if both parents are dead or their parental rights are terminated. Again, a court can grant grandparents custodial rights if this is seen to be in a child’s best interests.
When Do Grandparent Custody And Visitation Rights Apply in California?
When the courts are involved in settling grandparent custody and visitation issues in California, one of the critical aspects they consider is a child’s best interests. It is also possible for California courts to take into account the parent’s wishes. Maintaining the bond between grandparents and grandchildren is difficult after a marriage falls apart and only one parent receives full custody of the kids.
Fortunately, California gives grandparents certain visitation and custody rights as stipulated under California Family Code section 3100-3105. Again, the laws touching on grandparents’ rights are unsettled. You need a skilled family law attorney who can challenge them, allowing a judge to make a ruling based only on rational reasons.
One issue that makes fighting for grandparent visitation and custody rights an uphill task is that California laws emphasize the right for parents to raise their kids as they deem fit.
That said, the involved parents may choose to prevent their children from being in contact with their grandparents, which is not illegal. Grandparents can file petitions with the court or pursue mediation with the parents to grant them visitation rights.
If mediation with a child’s parents doesn’t work, grandparents can file a petition with the court under an existing family law case filed between a child’s parents. If a child’s parents are still happily married, it may not be possible to file for visitation rights unless:
- A child is adopted by a stepparent.
- A child is currently not under the custody of either parent
- One of the child’s parents advocates for grandparent visitation rights
- A child’s parents are legally separated or don’t live together
- The whereabouts of one of the child’s parents are unknown and have been so for at least one month
When it comes to custody matters, the courts often prefer to let children live with their biological parents. However, the courts are also obligated to find a balance between the authority of parents to make the decisions they deem fit for their kids and the best interests of the kids in question.
The rights of grandparents to obtain custody are often limited to situations such as:
- The biological parents of a child are deceased.
- The courts have ruled that a child’s parents are unfit to retain custody
- The courts declare one parent unfit for child custody, and the other parent cannot or doesn’t wish to have custody of the child
- Both parents of a child consent to giving grandparent custody
- The child has been living with their grandparents for over a year
- A child’s custodial parent is not of sound mind
- Issues of drug or alcohol abuse in a child’s home
Verifying any of the above situations is not a guarantee that the courts will issue grandparents custody. The courts must also consider a child’s ties with other blood relatives and the financial ability, age, and health of the grandparents seeking custody.
How to Ask For Grandparent Visitation Rights In California
Most grandparents seeking to enforce their rights to visitation or custody have no idea how to file a petition with the court. There are some simple steps involved, although it is crucial to ensure no errors during any part of the process.
Find Out Whether There Is an Open Family Law Case
There are two essential aspects to remember when filing:
If There Is an Existing Family Law Case Between a Child’s Parents
Sometimes, a child’s parents may already have an open family law case such as a child support case, a divorce, a parentage issue case, or a domestic violence matter. In this case, you should file your grandparent visitation petition under one of these cases.
If There Is No Open Family Law Case Between A Child’s Parents
If a child’s parents are married or have no open case against each other, you will have to file your petition from scratch. Currently, there are no court forms uniquely designed for grandparent rights petitions. However, some courts have unique local templates for this purpose. Your attorney will provide the best guidance on what to do, or you can seek advice from the self-help center in your local family court.
Fill Out the Court Forms
Irrespective of whether you are filing your petition from scratch or under an existing family law case, there are court forms you must fill out. They include:
Form FL-300 is also referred to as a notice for hearing or request for orders. It is an official document designed to notify all parties involved about a motion hearing. On the form, mention the kind of visitation schedule you deem fit and why. Some of the questions you must answer include:
- Do you have an existing relationship with your grandchildren? If yes, describe the relationship in brief.
- Are there any reasons why you feel grandparent visitation rights are in the best interests of your grandkids? If so, state them.
Form FL-311 is a child visitation and custody application attachment. You can use it to describe the kind of visitation and custody (parenting time) you would desire in a declaration.
Form MC 031
Form MC 031 is a blank application form that you can use to provide additional info that you deem crucial to the trial.
In addition to filling out the above forms, you also need to determine whether the courts need you to fill out additional forms specific to your county.
Have Your Paperwork Reviewed
If you have a personal attorney, they will review your forms and highlight anything that requires changing. If you don’t have a personal attorney, the self-help center personnel or family law facilitators can lend a hand and review your forms.
If everything is in order, you should make a minimum of three copies of each of your forms. The original set of papers should be filed with the court. You must keep one set of documents and serve each parent of your grandkids with a bunch of copies.
File the Forms
Once you have created duplicate copies of all the forms, you can now file the original documents with the court clerk. You should also hand over the photocopies for stamping and settle the filing fee. The courts can wave off the filing fee upon request if you cannot afford it.
Note the Court Date
After filing the forms and paying the filing fee or having it waived, the court clerk will issue your court date. It may be necessary for you to meet with your grandchildren’s parents for a mediation meeting before the court date. You can ask the court clerk about mediation orientation if you are unsure.
Have Your Grandchildren’s Parents Served
Your grandchildren’s parents (or whoever has physical custody of the kids) will need to be notified that you have filed a petition for grandparent visitation rights with the court. This has to be done via the “service of process.” In short, if there is no open family law case between your grandchildren’s parents, they must be “served” to inform them about the court case.
Anyone of legal age (18 years or older) can serve (hand-deliver) your papers to your grandchildren’s parents. Each parent must be served with all the copies of the stamped forms you filed. You should also attach a Form FL-320 (Responsive Declaration to Request for Order). This form allows the recipients of the forms to respond to Form FL-300 (Request for Orders) and disagree or agree with your request.
It is essential to understand that you cannot serve your grandchildren’s parents in person. However, the petition notice must be served in person not less than 16 court days before the set court date for it to be valid.
If your grandchildren’s parents already have an open case in the family law courts, it is unnecessary to adhere to the service of process requirements. You can notify each of the parents about your case through certified mail and post to their last known home addresses or each of their attorneys. Again, you cannot mail these papers in person, and you must use someone else who is of legal age.
File Proof of Service
The person you hired to mail or hand-deliver the papers to each of your grandchildren’s parents should fill out Form FL-330 (Proof of Personal Service) or Form FL-335 (Proof of Service by Mail). If they used certified mail, they must attach the return receipts and hand them over for you to file them with the court.
You must not underestimate the importance of your server filling out the Proof of Service without any errors. It is best to have your attorney or the self-help center personnel review the form before filing it.
Attend the Court Hearing
You and your grandchildren’s parents will need to attend a court hearing before a commissioner or judge. You may all be required to participate in a mediation meeting and iron issues out prior to the court hearing. If this meeting doesn’t bear the intended fruit, you can now proceed to court and have your matter determined by a judge.
As aforementioned, grandparent rights are not clear-cut in California. However, the laws allow a judge to make decisions that strike a balance between parental rights to make choices they deem fit for their children and the kids’ best interests.
Wait For a Ruling
The kind of ruling made during a grandparent rights case is entirely at the discretion of a judge. After the judge makes a decision, they will sign and issue a court order. Often court clerks prepare these orders and hand them over to a judge for signing. However, some courtrooms hand over this responsibility to a petitioner. This means you have to fill out Form FL-340 in person and attach a document detailed with a judge’s orders. Alternatively, you can delegate this duty to your attorney.
Arguing how and why your involvement is in the best interests of your grandkids is not simple. This makes it imperative to enlist a skilled family law specialist to represent you during mediation and in court. The stakes are high, and it is best to put up a real fight and increase your chances of the courts granting you grandparent custody or visitation rights.
Find a Los Angeles Grandparent Rights Lawyer Near Me
They say it takes an entire community to raise a child. What is beyond debate is that raising a child without the community makes parenting exponentially harder. This is one key reason why the laws protect the bonds of extended family members, including grandparents. Grandparents seeking to establish visitation and custody rights in Los Angeles, CA, should seek qualified legal assistance. At the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we have decades of collective experience in family law and have handled all sorts of cases in the past. Irrespective of how hard your situation may seem, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation and case evaluation. Give us a call at 310-695-5212, and let us help you establish a legally validated relationship with your grandchildren.