One of the most frequent challenges facing grandparents these days is trying to see their grandchildren. This challenge of this situation can arise after a divorce has happened, or if the grandparents have a disagreement with the parents of their grandchildren.

This problem plagues grandparents across America, no matter the socioeconomic class. So, what rights do grandparents have, and how can you exercise those rights?


Before we dig into this topic, we need to make a disclaimer about this article.

Each state has a variety of laws that differ from one another, which affects the rights of grandparents. When you read articles such as this, it’s important that you remember that this is not legal advice, but rather a collecting together of information to help as you begin your research process.

The information in this article is intended only as a starting point for your investigation into discovering your rights as a grandparent in the United States of America. Being properly informed of basic definitions and other related topics is the place to start.

As you explore this topic and seriously consider all of the legal aspects and your rights as a grandparent, you need to make sure you consult with a lawyer who specializes in this specific area.

Regardless of the legal choices that other members of your family may have made, and regardless of the morals or ethics involved, you still have rights as a grandparent.

It is vital you have legal counsel before you move forward in exercising these rights. Take the time to do your research first, both into the information available online and in libraries, and in finding the right lawyer for your situation.

What are Grandparents’ Rights?

As divorce rates remain extremely high in the United States, more grandparents are finding themselves unable to visit with their grandchildren.

childing looking at the woman

Divorce and separation are not easy on anyone, but there is a rise in the number of parents who, for one reason or another, simply refuse to allow their children to visit the grandparents. The area of grandparent’s rights is becoming a much bigger issue these days.

Things that lead to parents refusing to allow grandparents to see their grandchildren include:

  • Divorce or legal separation of the parents
  • Arguments or disagreements between the grandparents and parents of the children. The parents respond by refusing to let the grandparents visit with their grandchildren.
  • Parents withholding communication between grandparents and grandchildren as a form of manipulation or punishment for a perceived slight or disagreement.

No matter the reasons for withholding visits, it’s wrong to block children from visiting their grandparents. Children are not pawns to be used by adults in their arguments and fights. Children deserve to have as many stable loving adults in their lives as possible.

Unfortunately, there are no automatic rights for a grandparent to see their grandchildren. There are some legal avenues for grandparents to take, however.

In some states, grandparents may petition the courts for permission to have vitiation with their grandchildren. Normally this type of petition exists if there has been a death of one of the parents, an incarceration of a parent, or a divorce.

Often, the courts will require grandparents to show that there is harm being done to the child because the grandparent is not allowed to be involved.

Grandparents Rights from State to State

For states that have laws regarding grandparents’ rights to visitation, there are statutory guidelines which grant the right to visit. The purpose behind these laws is to allow grandparents to remain in contact with their grandchildren, despite family situations.

These types of laws are broken down into what is known as permissive and restrictive visitation statutes.

In cases where there are restrictive statutes, the grandparent can seek the right to visit only if there has been a divorce between the parents, or if one or both of the parents have passed away.

While there have been some rulings on the federal level regarding grandparent’s right to visit, practically all the relevant laws are on the state level. It is important to examine what courts have said in various states regarding their rights to visitation.

The website includes a breakdown of grandparent’s rights in a state by state listing.


To avoid immediately going to court, you could consider mediation between yourself and the parents of your grandchildren.

Mediation works by having a neutral third party help both parties communicate so that they can come to a legally binding solution that will be more mutually beneficial to both sides.

This could be a safe way to discuss the needs of both you and your grandchildren with the parents.

You should also consider the fact that if you do file with the court, the judge may order you and the parents to attend meetings with a mediator from the family court services anyway.

How to File for Grandparent’s Rights

cute siblings

For our purposes, we chose to look at how filing for grandparent’s rights works in California. For your own state, you should consult a lawyer to know what rights you have, and how to go about gaining them.

In California, it’s possible to file for the right to see grandchildren under certain situations.

While grandparents generally can’t file for visitation rights if the parents are still married to each other, there are some notable exceptions:

  • One of the parents has vanished and their whereabouts have been unknown for at least a month
  • The parents are living separately
  • The grandchild has been formally adopted by a step-parent
  • If the child is living with neither parent at the time of filing for grandparent’s rights
  • One of the parents joins in on the petition with the grandparent for receiving visitation rights

To file for those rights in California, you would follow these steps:

  1. Look and see if there is already a family court case open concerning the grandchildren. If there is one open, then you can file a petition under that particular case number. Otherwise, you file a new case for your claim.
  2. Next, you need to fill out all the relevant court forms. This will involve explaining the type of visitation schedule you would like, and why.  You also need to provide details about the relationships between you and your grandchildren.
  3. Make sure to have these forms reviewed by a lawyer or someone at a legal self-help center before attempting to file.
  4. After the forms have been verified, make sure to make three copies of all the documents. The original copy goes to court, two copies go to the parents, and the final copy is for you.
  5. When you turn in the papers, the clerk will give you a court date.
  6. After you leave the court, the copies of the paperwork need to be served to the parents. You are not legally permitted to serve the papers personally, so you will need to find someone over 18 years of age to serve the paperwork to the parents of your grandchildren. Have this process server fill out proof forms of the service.
  7. After the paper servicing has been completed, then you are ready for court.
  8. Attend court and proceed as the court deems. 

To be successful in court, there are some points that you need to prove:

  • That it is in the best interest of the child to have visitations with their grandparents enforced by the court
  • That to withhold visits from the grandparents would cause harm to the children
  • If the grandparent has served in a parental capacity at some point in the child’s life, this is grounds to have visitation. You’ll simply need to supply legal documents confirming this capacity in past.

Moving Forward

man holding a child

Before moving forward with potential legal action, it’s important to also consider the possibility of hiring a mediator. By hiring a mediator, you have a third person come and help both parents and grandparents communicate and come to an agreement without having to go to court.

However, as you move forward, if you decide that meditation is not enough, there may be some legal action you can take. It is important to remember that every state and territory will have its own laws when it comes to grandparent’s rights, and each state applies and upholds those laws differently. Make sure you are researching the right state’s laws for where you and your grandchildren live.

Once you’ve done enough research, and finally decide to go to the next step to pursue legal action, be sure to seek the right lawyer. This lawyer will have experience in family law, and preferably experience with fighting for grandparent’s rights.

While there may be some difficult choices to make, it’s vital to secure your rights as a grandparent. With the right kind of lawyer to help walk you through the legal process, you are going to be able to make the right decision with more confidence. And, hopefully, that means you’ll be seeing your grandchildren very soon.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This