Do Grandparents have Rights to Visitation in California?

When a marriage ends and children are involved, we often don’t consider the family members beyond those directly affected, namely parents and offspring. Grandparents, however, are often negatively impacted by whatever custody agreement has been reached between parties, particularly when there is animosity between exes. What are they to do when the grandkids are prevented from spending time with extended family? Do grandparents have any rights to visitation if parents are unable or unwilling to allow it?

In California, the simple answer is that no, grandparents have no inherent right to visitation of their grandchildren. Generally speaking, grandparents are usually permitted visitation provided there are no concerns for the well-being of the children. These concerns may include substance abuse, a history of violence, documented criminal activity, or dangerous residency. If there is no cause for concern, grandparents can file a legal suit seeking visitation. Visitation is a right a court must grant to the grandparent(s) after the legal case has been filed.

Petitioning grandparents must, at minimum, prove the following to the court to be granted visitation rights.

  • Engendered Bond – Particular to California, grandparents need to provide evidence that a healthy, pre-established relationship exists between them and the child.
  • Best Interests of the Child- Though parents have been determined by the Supreme Court to have the fundamental right to make decisions regarding their child’s care, custody, and control – a court may balance that with grandparent visitation rights if doing so is clearly in the child’s best interests. Naturally, the burden of proving these falls on the petitioning grandparent(s).

Before any legal filings with a court, it is first advisable for grandparents to do everything they can to resolve things between parties outside of court. Of course, some circumstances may preclude this, but even attempting to hammer out differences on your own will demonstrate your willingness to compromise without litigation. Another thing to consider is if relations between all parties (including the children) down the line will be adversely affected if legal proceedings prove lengthy or even mean-spirited.

Experienced legal professionals will tell you that working with a mediator outside the courtroom first is infinitely preferable to jumping straight into filing paperwork and getting a judge involved. If mediation works, it is more likely to improve relationships in the future. If mediation doesn’t work, there is no guarantee that a judge will award any rights to the grandparents or visitation during the times or format they ask for.


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