Visitation rights of California grandparents

California law provides options for grandparents to see their grandchildren if it would be in the children’s best interests.

The bond between a grandparent and his or her grandchild can be strong and meaningful. When problems develop in a grandchild's home, a grandparent may be left out for a variety of reasons and unable to see the grandchild. In California, the law allows for grandparent visitation in certain circumstances.

The grandparent-grandchild relationship

A grandparent and grandchild can share a lot of love and companionship. KidsHealth.org writes about some of the benefits to a child from a positive grandparent relationship:

  • Healthy developmental growth
  • Heightened learning abilities
  • Personal, undivided attention from the grandparent
  • Sustained interaction during playing and reading
  • Opportunities to develop independence
  • Loving adult advocacy
  • Sense of security and safety
  • Love and concern for his or her well being
  • Positive influence and behavior modeling
  • Link to ethic heritage and familial history

Sometimes family circumstances interrupt the grandparent-grandchild relationship such as when problems arise in the child's parents' relationship such as separation or divorce. Other situations include parental illness, substance abuse, incarceration, relocation, parenting problems, stepparent adoption and more.

Sometimes one or both of the parents refuse to grandparent visits for a variety of reasons.

If a grandparent is concerned about a break in his or her relationship with a grandchild, especially if the grandmother or grandfather is worried about the child's well being, the grandparent should speak with an attorney to understand the legal options.

Grandparent visitation in California

California statutes allow a grandparent to request a court order for visitation in certain situations. The court must always look at whether it would be in the child's best interest.

First, if either parent of a minor child passes away, the grandparents may be granted reasonable visitation rights if it is in the child's best interests, unless the grandchild has been adopted by anyone other than a grandparent or a stepparent.

Second, a grandparent may seek visitation in certain other court proceedings like a divorce or legal separation in which the court could decide custody and visitation issues.

Third, a grandparent may file a court petition for visitation that can be granted if:

  • The bond created by a preexisting grandparent-grandchild relationship makes visitation in the child's best interest.
  • The court balances the child's interest in visitation against parental rights to object.
  • The parents are not married, unless they are living apart, one has been missing for at least one month, one parent joins the grandparent petition, the child lives with neither parent, a stepparent adopted the child or one parent is in jail or "involuntarily institutionalized."

In the second and third proceedings, a grandparent granted visitation may be ordered to pay or may receive child support to cover related transportation or to cover expenses like child care or medical costs during times of visitation.

Because fit parents have constitutional rights to parent their kids, complex legal issues arise if a grandparent files a petition for visitation that a parent opposes, or that would interfere with a birth parent's rights in custody or visitation, when that parent is not a party to the proceeding. An experienced lawyer should be consulted to understand the issues and potential outcomes in these complicated circumstances.

In more extreme situations, a grandparent should seek legal advice about custody, guardianship or even adoption.

The attorneys at The Law Office of Heather Cullen, A Professional Corporation, with offices in Riverside and Temecula, represent grandparents and other family members in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, the Los Angeles area and across Southern California in legal matters relating to grandparents' rights like visitation, custody and guardianship.