Grandparents’ Visitation Rights
My friends Tom and Julie had not seen their three grandchildren in over a year. They had never been allowed to see the newest addition, six-month-old Sophia. The estrangement broke their hearts, mainly because of the loss of contact with their grandchildren. They tried to solve the problems between themselves and their daughter, but it kept coming to a stalemate. The situation left Tom and Julie wondering what legal rights, if any, do grandparents in Oklahoma have to gain visitation rights with their grandchildren?
There isn’t a simple answer. I strongly recommend seeking legal counsel if you are pursuing grandparent visitation rights. There is no constitutional right for grandparents to have visitation, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility and sometimes the best choice. It does mean the parents’ rights supersede the grandparents’ rights in most situations. Grandparents’ rights vary throughout the fifty states.
In Oklahoma, there must be three elements present for grandparents to obtain court-ordered visitation. These are the three elements that must exist for a grandparent to receive visitation.
- Grandparent visitation serves the child’s best interests
- The grandchild’s parent(s) are unfit, or the grandchild would be harmed if grandparent visitation didn’t occur.
- The grandchild’s nuclear family unit has been dissolved. (This could be because of death, divorce, incarceration, desertion, loss of parental custody, among other issues.)
The term “best interests of the child” may sound subjective, but the judge is required to consider many factors when determining the child’s best interests.
- The importance of the specific grandparent-grandchild relationship and the child’s preferences. Do the grandparents and grandchild have a close emotional relationship established?
- Will the grandparents encourage a close relationship (if appropriate) between the child and the parents?
- The judge will look at the grandparents’ motivation for seeking visitation and why the parents are attempting to withhold visitation.
- The mental and physical health of everyone involved will be taken into consideration.
- If the child is in a stable and healthy home environment, the judge will be less likely to order visitation.
- The judge will also look at the moral fitness of the parents and grandparents and potential interactions the child may have with frequent visitors to the homes.
- Also considered will be the disruption to routine the visitations with grandparents may cause for the child.
Seeking grandparent visitation rights is complex, and as you can tell, it is an issue that requires legal expertise. Going to court should be your last resort. Before that, try to set up voluntary visitation. That seems obvious, but try to be as flexible and cooperative as possible about locations, times, and days. Document all conversations and visits. Continue to mail letters, make phone calls, or email your grandchildren if the parents will allow. It’s crucial to maintain contact. Remember, never talk negatively to your grandchildren about their parents.
Another option, the one my friends Tom and Julie chose, was seeking help from a family counselor. The counselor helped the family with the challenging task of resolving family conflicts. It wasn’t an easy process, as some of the hostilities and disagreements had plagued the family for decades. Finally, after several months of counseling and negotiations, the parents agreed to allow the grandparents to visit the children.
Tom and Julie are happy to be renewing their relationship with their grandchildren and slowly mending the rift with their daughter. It hasn’t always been smooth or easy, but the rewards are well worthwhile.