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Do Grandparents Have Rights in California’s Family Courts?

As family law attorneys we help clients with a variety of family legal issues, not just divorce. For example, sometimes grandparents would like to spend time with their grandchildren, but they are not allowed to see them for various reasons.

    California family courts allow a grandparent to request reasonable visitation with their grandchild under certain circumstances. The court must follow these two steps when considering such a request:
  • 1.Find that a prior relationship between the grandparent and the child exists that shows a strong bond between the two such that visitation would be in the best interests of the child, and
  • 2. Balance the parents’ rights to make important decisions about their own child against the best interests of the child in having a relationship and visitation with the grandparent.

When can grandparents file for visitation rights in California?

    The general rule states that grandparents cannot request visitation with their grandchildren while the child’s parents are still married. Like most rules, there are some exceptions such as:
  • The parents don’t live together;
  • One of the parent’s physical location is unknown for at least a month;
  • One of the parents supports and joins the grandparent’s petition;
  • One of the parents is in prison or a mental health institution;
  • The child lives with someone other than his or her parents; or
  • A stepparent has adopted the grandchild.

If a grandparent receives visitation with the grandchild based upon any of these situations but the circumstances later change such that none of these exceptions apply, either parent can ask the judge to vacate the grandparent’s visitation rights.

How does a grandparent request visitation?

If a grandparent is seeking visitation with a grandchild, the grandparent must file a petition in the appropriate court. If a family law case already exists between the grandchild’s parents, such as a divorce, paternity, or domestic violence case, the grandparent can file the petition within that case. If there is no pending relevant case, the grandparent will have to initiate a new case to file a visitation petition.

California family court filings involve multiple forms. Different counties may require local forms in addition to the state-wide standard forms. California’s Form FL-300 is a mandatory form that requires a grandparent to set forth the visitation schedule they would like and describe why the judge should allow visitation with the grandchild.

It’s important to explain the nature of the relationship with the grandchild, why it is in the child’s best interests to have visitation with the grandparent, and any other matters which the judge should know when making this decision.

Once the necessary documents are filed, the clerk issues a court date or a mediation date, depending on the local rules. Both of the grandchild’s parents must receive copies of all filed documents along with any stepparent and other person who has physical custody of the child in question.

Some courts order everyone involved to attend Family Court Services mediation to resolve the matter out of court if possible. If an agreement is not reached in mediation, the family law judge will make a decision based upon the two standards mentioned above — the best interests of the child and the rights of the parents to make decisions that affect their child.

Grandparent visitation is not guaranteed

It is important to note that California courts will presume that grandparent visitation is NOT in the child’s best interests if BOTH parents agree that the grandparent should not be given visitation rights. This presumption can be challenged by a grandparent with strong evidence against the parents’ agreement and in support of the child’s best interests.

In California, grandparents have the right to request visitation with their grandchildren under specific circumstances, but it is not an easy process. Having an experienced family law attorney on your side will greatly increase your chances of establishing visitation with your grandchild if you meet the legal requirements.

At Evans Kingsbury LLP we are family law attorneys who handle grandparent’s rights cases and provide decades of family law experience to all of our family law clients. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.

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