At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
In the legal sense, grandparents’ rights refer to rights grandparents may possess to see or have contact with children, usually after a divorce or other rupture in a family has occurred. While the rights of custodial parents are often primary, in some jurisdictions, courts may allow some visitation or access to children that may be against the wishes of custodial parents. They may be successful in gaining access to the children if the grandparents can build a successful case that argues that their removal from the child or children’s lives would be somehow disruptive or detrimental. In best possible scenarios, divorcing couples do everything they can to keep all grandparents involved in the lives of their children, but this doesn’t always occur, and some grandparents may take legal steps to remain in touch with grandchildren.
Usually if both parents share custody, grandparents’ rights are a non-issue because either parent can decide whom a child will visit with and when. Most often these cases are built around situations where one parent loses custodial rights, and this means he or she can’t decide where his or her children can go much of the time. If visitation is conducted on any form of supervised basis, the non-custodial parent’s parents are typically left out of the loop, and this may be for very good reason or for no reason at all. Each custody case is different and not all jurisdictions recognize grandparents' rights.
Often, the grandparents have spent significant time with children prior to the divorce, and there can be a case made that taking away time in the future damages the children. The grandparents, even if they’ve behaved in ways that were obstructive to the marriage or mistreated the custodial parent, could possibly sue for rights to visit. Where permitted, such a suit may be successful, although in most cases these suits wouldn’t result in any type of custodial arrangement. Most of the time they just result in the grandparents' rights to visit or have children to their home to visit.
There are instances where grandparents’ rights mean more, and a grandparent could sue his own child or former spouse of a child for custody. This tends to occur when the parent with custody is behaving in ways that endanger the child. Sometimes these accusations don’t end in a suit, but instead end up with children being seized from a home and placed in foster care. Though foster care systems tend to want to place children with relatives when possible, they can determine that the grandparents wouldn’t make fit guardians, and such a situation can be tragic for the child, particularly if initial accusations against parents were malicious and unfounded.
Custody cases help to determine best placement for children and who gets access to them. In some jurisdictions grandparent’s rights may be determined in them or in separate cases brought before family court. It is generally urged that people avoid this measure and try all other possible strategies first, like talking with each other and together with a mediator or counselor to see if there is a way to solve the issue with less acrimony.