At one time, it was not uncommon for grandparents and their adult children to live close to one another. This type of situation allowed for easy access between grandparents and their grandchildren. Today's contemporary society, however, is not quite so simple; many parent-children live far away from their parents, thus, many grandparents are able to spend time with their grandchildren only once or twice a year. What's worse, given the ever increasing divorce rate in the United States, many grandparents must enlist the aid of a court of law in order to obtain visitation with their grandchildren.
Understanding Your Options
Although it is unknown exactly how many court-ordered visitation cases exist in our country today, the experts all agree that the number of these instances are only escalating.
Grandparent visitation rights issues usually come out of the ashes of a messy divorce. Quite often, the custodial parent intentionally or otherwise denies access to the children, leaving the noncustodial grandparent no alternative other than to seek court intervention. Moreover, even if a grandparent is successful in securing visitation via the court in one state, it is quite possible that the process would need to be started again should the grandchildren and the custodial parent move to another state.
It is always best to try to have grandparent issues resolved in the actual divorce decree itself. Most states will grant visitation as a by-product of biological lineage and consider it important that a child be able to maintain a rewarding and continuing relationship with grandparents. However, bear in mind that the ultimate "relevant factor" in any state will be whether or not the visitation will be determined to be in the "best interests of the child".
Implementing a Plan of Action
For grandparents who do not have such visitation spelled out in the divorce agreements, there are some general rules of advice to be followed.
It is never a good idea on the part of the grandparents to be too aggressive or forceful in their quest for visitation. This is especially helpful when a divorced custodial parent has remarried. It is important that time be allowed for the new marriage to work out, mostly for the sake of the children, who are apt to be divided in terms of loyalty to the divorced (or even deceased) parent.
It is also not recommended that legal proceedings begin immediately. All avenues of negotiation should be exhausted first. Many professionals suggest the use of a third-party, professional mediator. Often times, the custodial parent will resist the visitation out of fear that the noncustodial grandparent will fill the grandchildren with negative thoughts. The noncustodial grandparents and the custodial parent should first attempt to work out some sort of visitation schedule among themselves. These types of agreements usually work out best because none of the involved parties will tend to feel anything was forced upon them.
Should there be no alternative to court action, the grandparents should be prepared to produce documented evidence and a list of witness to substantiate the "best interests of the child" claim when they meet with an attorney. The most important piece of evidence in any state would be to demonstrate that a consistent and caring relationship was well established prior to the divorce.
In a situation where there is a measure of animosity towards the divorcing parents and even grandparents, it is important that the children themselves be sheltered from any and all conflict as much as possible. It is also very important to keep in mind that, although grandparent visitation is generally acknowledged to be healthy, it is not meant to override the basic right of parental autonomy.