Grandparents can play a key role in a child’s life, but grandparents far too often are pushed out of the lives of their grandchildren, especially after a divorce. The typical scenario is a parent with custody preventing the ex-spouse’s parents from visiting their grandchild. Grandparents in some cases are concerned for the safety of their grandchildren. If you have grandchildren in Texas, keep reading. You need to know your rights.
Everyone knows that divorce is difficult for kids, and yet divorce is precisely the time when a child may need the assurance and emotional support that grandparents can so frequently provide. When a parent keeps a child from his or her grandparents, it’s painful, and it damages the child as well.
Is there any legal action that grandparents can take to establish visitation rights? Are there other legal options for concerned grandparents in Texas? You’re about to learn what the law says in our state and what options it provides to grandparents. Of course, every situation is different, so it’s important to have sound and specific legal advice in any particular situation where grandparents are considering legal action.
In the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, if you are a grandparent who is seeking visitation time with your grandchild, if you have concerns for the child’s safety or well-being, or if you simply need to learn more about your grandparental rights in this state, arrange to speak with an experienced Dallas family law attorney. Now, some basic answers about grandparental rights in Texas.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY ABOUT GRANDPARENTAL RIGHTS?
First, the bad news. Grandparents have no absolute legal right to visits with their grandchildren, according to the United States Supreme Court. Back in 2000, the justices struck down a state of Washington statute that allowed for grandparental visits even when a custodial parent opposed those visits – if the visits were considered by a court to be in the best interests of the child.
The Supreme Court struck down the Washington law by citing the broad and virtually absolute right of parents to decide what is best for their children, including their right to determine who may and may not communicate with the children. A Texas grandparent seeking visitation rights must, therefore, overcome the legal presumption that a parent’s choice to deny grandparental visits is in the child’s best interests.
To overcome this legal presumption, Texas law makes grandparents prove that the continuing inability to visit and communicate with a grandchild will “significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.” But, even with a custodial parent’s opposition, some Texas grandparents may – under very narrow conditions – be able to win a court order allowing for visitations.
WHEN MAY TEXAS GRANDPARENTS BE AWARDED VISITATION RIGHTS?
What are those conditions? They are listed below, but understand first that if you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights in Texas, even getting a day in court won’t be easy. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you will need an experienced Dallas family law attorney advocating on your behalf.
Usually, a Texas court will not hear a case involving grandparental visitation unless a parent is:
– in jail, prison, or incarcerated in another facility
– deemed by a court to be mentally incompetent
– not currently living in the residence where the child is living
If a child has been adopted in Texas after the death of both parents or after a third-party adoption agreed to by both parents, grandparents will not be permitted to seek visitation rights. In fact, a petition for grandparental visits will be granted in Texas only if the court makes two findings. First, the visits must be in the child’s best interests.
Secondly, the court must find that at least one of the five conditions listed here is applicable:
– The parents are divorced.
– At least one parent neglected or abused the child.
– At least one parent is deceased, incarcerated, or has been deemed incompetent by a court.
– At least one parent’s parental rights have been terminated by a court.
– The child has resided with the grandparent or grandparents for at least six months.
WHEN SEEKING VISITATION RIGHTS, IS COURT THE ONLY OPTION?
When grandparents request visitation rights in Texas, they should be ready to describe the nature of the relationship with the grandchild, to explain why grandparental visits are in the best interests of the grandchild, and to provide any other testimony or evidence that can help the court make a fair and appropriate decision.
Court is not the only or even necessarily the best option for grandparents seeking visitation rights. Often, resolving the matter away from the courtroom through a formal mediation process is a more effective option. Mediation can reduce the tension, help family members find common ground, and it can also keep a grandparent’s legal costs lower. A family law attorney can explain more about mediation and help a grandparent initiate the process.
MAY GRANDPARENTS SEEK CUSTODY OF A GRANDCHILD?
If they believe it is in the child’s best interests, grandparents may file a request for child custody. In Texas, the legal word for child custody is “conservatorship.” Under Texas law, grandparents may petition for “managing” conservatorship in two cases – first, when there is proof that the child’s current living situation is a significant risk to the child’s physical or emotional health.
Texas grandparents may also petition the court for managing conservatorship if both parents, a surviving parent, or a child’s custodian agree that grandparental custody is in the child’s best long-term interests. Grandparents may also legally intervene – in a custody proceeding started by someone else – to seek “possessory” conservatorship. This gives grandparents visitation rights comparable to the visitation rights typically granted to a non-custodial parent after a divorce.
When a grandparent seeks visitation rights or conservatorship in Texas, the court must consider a wide range of factors and balance a number of legal considerations. If you are a grandparent and you are seeking visitation rights with your grandchild – or custody of your grandchild – you must consult first with an experienced Dallas family law attorney and carefully contemplate that attorney’s advice and insights.
Your relationship with your grandchild, the joy that relationship brings to both of you, and the future of that relationship is what will be determined when you take legal action seeking visitation rights or conservatorship. Do not make the wrong choices. Be sure that an experienced Dallas family lawyer advises you and explains all of your options and their potential consequences.