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Grandparents have visitation rights

Whether grandparents have visitation rights in California may be a complex family law issue. State law provides procedures for some grandparents' rights.

A grandparent may seek visitation rights through the courts. In granting reasonable visitation, the court must find that the grandparent and grandchild had a pre-existing relationship. Also, the court will only grant visitation if it is in the grandchild's best interests, due to the bond between the grandparent and grandchild. The court must also balance the child's best interests in having this visitation, with the parents' rights to make decisions about their child.

In general, grandparents cannot file for visitation rights if the grandchild's parents are married. There are exceptions, however. These include when the parents are living separately, if a parent's whereabouts have been unknown for at least one month, when one parent joins the grandparent's visitation petition or the grandchild was adopted by a step-parent. When these circumstances ultimately cease to exist after a grandparent was awarded visitation, either parent may ask the court to end visitation.

Families may also resolve a visitation dispute out of court. Through mediation, parents and grandparents may discuss their concerns and expectations and possibly reach an agreement that serves the child's best interests and helps preserve relationships among the family.

To seek visitation, a grandparent can file a petition with a California court. This petition may be filed under any ongoing custody or child support cases. If there are no open cases, the petition will initiate a new legal action.

Any grandparent who is raising their grandchildren because they are absent or for other reasons, such as drug addiction or incarceration, may seek custody. This is known as guardianship and is done through a different court process.

These types of issues may be complicated and require knowledge of the law and court proceedings. An attorney can assist grandparents and other family members in pursuing their rights in court.

Source: California Courts, "Visitation rights of grandparents," Accessed April 17, 2017

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