Understand the Laws in Your State
The first step in defending against grandparent rights is to understand the laws in your state. Laws regarding grandparent visitation and custody vary widely across the U.S. Some states make it relatively easy for grandparents to file for visitation or custody, while other states only allow it under very limited circumstances.
Do thorough research into your state’s statutes and consult with a family law attorney to determine what the grandparent will need to prove to be granted rights.
Determine if the Grandparent Has a Standing
In all states, a grandparent must have legal “standing” to file for visitation or custody. This generally means they must prove they have a substantial existing relationship with the child.
If your child has never met the grandparent filing for rights or has only seen them a handful of times, they may lack standing. Other factors like the child’s parents being married and objections from the parents can also impact standing.
Look for Limiting Factors
Many states limit grandparent rights to specific situations, like:
- The death of one or both parents
- Parental divorce or separation
- Parental unfitness or abuse/neglect of the child
- The parent has been incarcerated or declared mentally incompetent
If none of these factors apply in your case, the grandparent may have no recourse under your state laws.
Build Your Case Against Visitation
If the grandparent has standing to request visitation, you will need to make a case as to why it would be detrimental to your child. Reasons a court may deny visitation include:
Lack of an Existing Relationship
As mentioned, most states require a close grandparent-grandchild relationship in order to grant visitation. If the grandparent was not heavily involved in your child’s life, emphasize this lack of connection.
Potential for Confusion or Emotional Harm
If the grandparent has exhibited hostility towards you, made derogatory comments about you to the child, undermined your parental authority, or acted in other inappropriate ways, argue this behavior could psychologically damage your child.
If the grandparent lives far away, compelling your child to travel great distances to visit could cause emotional distress or logistical problems.
Differences in Values or Religion
Cite meaningful differences between your family’s values/beliefs and those of the grandparent. For example, if you raise your child in a different religion.
In many states, older children’s preferences regarding visitation are considered. If your child is strongly opposed to visitation, make this known.
Work with Your Attorney
When grandparents pursue legal action for visitation or custody, having an experienced family law attorney in your state is crucial. An attorney can help craft the strongest arguments against visitation and navigate the legal system on your behalf. Consider:
Many courts will order mediation to try to resolve issues prior to a full hearing. Mediation may lead to an agreement both sides can accept.
Depositions and Interrogatories
Your attorney can force the grandparent to provide information and testimony through depositions and written interrogatories. Use these to establish evidence.
Motions to Dismiss
Your attorney can file motions asserting the grandparent lacks standing or has failed to provide evidence justifying visitation.
If it goes to trial, your attorney will handle filing briefs, entering evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making arguments before the judge.
Seek Compromise Solutions
Even if you feel the grandparent’s case is weak, compromise agreements can help avoid costly litigation. Potential options include:
- Allowing occasional phone calls or video chats between the child and grandparent
- Agreeing to very limited, supervised visitation a few times a year
- Sending the grandparent photos or updates about the child
Focus on Your Child’s Best Interests
Above all else, keep the well-being of your child at the center of your response. Courts will ultimately rule based on what they determine is in the child’s best interests.
With the help of your lawyer, demonstrate how losing parental autonomy would be emotionally detrimental to your child. Handle the case calmly, reasonably, and ethically.
Fighting grandparent visitation or custody requests can be challenging, but understanding your state laws, building a strong case, working closely with an attorney, seeking compromise, and focusing on your child’s best interests will give you the best chance of reaching an outcome you feel good about. With preparation and perseverance, you can defend your rights as a parent.