A child’s connection with their grandparent can be one of the most special and cherished relationships of their life. In an idyllic world, grandparents would be able to spend time with their grandchildren regularly while providing support to the children’s parents. Unfortunately, when a family is no longer together, this can result in grandparents not being able to see their grandchildren as they once did. Divorce, separation, or the death of a parent, can mean grandparents will be excluded from their grandchildren’s lives. However, in Florida, under certain circumstances, grandparents have legal remedies which may help them see their grandchildren.
Florida law 752.001 provides for Grandparent Visitation Rights. This law allows eligible grandparents to petition a family court to have access to their grandchildren under certain conditions. To meet the statutory requirements to petition the court for visits the grandparent must:
· Be a grandparent of a minor child whose parents have died, are missing, or are in a persistent vegetative state; or
· Be a grandparent of a minor child or one whose parent is dead, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and whose other parent has been convicted of a felony or another violent offense for behavior which poses a substantial threat of harm to the child’s health or welfare.
In other words, for grandparents to petition for visitation, both parents must be dead, missing, or severely incapacitated and if only one parent meets one of these conditions, the other parent will have to be a felon or to have been convicted of something which presents a serious threat to the child.
· If a grandparent meets the initial criteria, the family court will hold a preliminary hearing to find out if there is adequate evidence that the parents or parent is not fit or presents a threat to the child. If the evidence is not sufficient, the case will be dismissed, and the petitioning grandparent may be ordered to pay attorney's fees.
· If the case is allowed to proceed, the court can appoint a guardian ad litem to look out for the child’s best interest and must then send the case for mandatory family mediation.
· If the family is unsuccessful in mediation, the court will have a hearing on the issue of visitation.
If the matter goes before the court for a final hearing, both sides will put on evidence to support their positions. The court will consider numerous factors to determine if the parent is unfit or a threat to the child if visitation is in the child's best interest, and whether allowing visits will damage the parent-child relationship.
As with other decision concerning children, the court's examination will center around deciding what is in the best interest of the child. This evaluation can include looking at the reasons why the parent is seeking to exclude a grandparent from visits, the quality of the grandparent-grandchild relationship, the emotional ties between grandchild and grandparent, and numerous other factors. If the court decides it is in the child's best interest and the other requirements are met, grandparent visitation can be ordered.
When a grandparent is seeking visitation, it is vital that they have an experienced family law attorney to advise them on how to best manage and present their case. At the Draper Law Firm, we have experienced family law attorneys who understand the issues and laws surrounding grandparent access and can provide you with the advice you need to understand your options. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.