Grandparents Have Rights Too!
When parents split, whether married or not, children often lose their relationship with the grandparents of the non-custodial parent. Grandparents have a right to seek relief from the courts if they want to establish or continue their relationship with their grandchildren. Prior to 2016, the courts in those situations followed the argument of fundamental rights of a fit parent. In 2016, however, the court in Stuard (Stuard v. Stuard (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 768) used the best interest of the child standard, which is the prevailing standard in child custody cases. This shift was great news for grandparents trying to either establish or continue their relationship with the grandchildren.
In Stuard, the seven year old grandchild had an established relationship with her paternal grandparents, which began at birth and went on, including holidays and birthdays. After the child’s parents separated, the child and her father even lived with the grandparents for a time, until the father was asked to move out because of his anger problems. Both parents included grandparents in the child’s life after their separation. When Father started having problems with his parents, he asked the mother to join him in excluding the grandparents from the child’s life. The trial court found that it was in the best interests of the grandchild to continue spending time with her grandparents, citing to the fact that she missed them. The court found that it was detrimental to the child to excise her grandparents, because they had established a bond that was supportive, strong and loving.
The Stuard case was a bit unusual in that both parents were trying to exclude the grandparents after their separation. Usually, the out parent is the one whose parents are excluded. In other words, if mom has the kids most of the time, dad’s parents are excluded. But nonetheless, the Stuard case indicates a fundamental change in the court’s approach to grandparent visitation rights. This focus on the child creates a great opportunity for grandparents to seek relationships with their grandkids.
As promising as the Stuard decision was, it is still challenging to present your case in court from an evidentiary standpoint. There are some older cases that support the parents fundamental rights over those of the child. All of those cases are still good law, so the courts may choose to follow their line of logic. The grandparents must be careful how the case is supported from a factual as well as legal side. It is always recommended to hire an attorney who knows the law on this subject and has experience handling those types of cases. As always, I believe that if there is a will, there is a way!