Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Alabama?

Learn about grandparent visitation in Alabama.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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Grandparents are notorious for spoiling grandchildren, but they can also play important and integral parts in children's lives. When parents divorce or one parent dies, however, grandparents may wonder what rights they'll have to visit with their grandchildren.

This article explains the visitation rights of grandparents in Alabama. If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation in Alabama after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.

When Can Grandparent's Ask for Visitation?

A grandparent can file a petition for visitation rights if it's in the child's best interest, and:

  • one or both of the child's parents are deceased
  • the child's parents have divorced
  • a parent has abandoned the child
  • the child was born out of wedlock, or
  • the child is living with one or both biological or adoptive parents, still married, and either or both parents have prohibited a relationship between the child and grandparent.

If the grandchild's parents are still married, the court won't intervene to give a grandparent visitation rights unless the parents have previously denied visitation to the grandparent.

Alabama law considers a grandparent to be a parent of a parent, even if the child or grandchild is adopted, or if a court has terminated a parent's parental rights. A grandparent may also be the parent of a parent whose child has been adopted by a relative. When a child is adopted by a relative (including a stepparent, grandparent, brother, sister, half-sibling, aunt or uncle), the natural grandparents can intervene in the custody matter to request visitation rights.

How Do Courts Determine Whether to Grant Grandparents Visitation?

Grandparent visitation laws give deference to the parent. If the child lives with one or both biological or adoptive parents, there is a rebuttable presumption that the parents know the child's best interests regarding grandparent visitation. When there's a conflict between what the parent wants regarding visitation and what the grandparent wants, the court will assume that the parent knows what's best for the child unless proven otherwise. Still, the grandparent will be allowed the chance to prove to the court that having visitation with the grandchild is in the child's best interests.

Each judge begins the grandparent visitation decision by asking whether the requested visitation is in the child's best interest. The court won't grant visitation if it would endanger the physical health of the child or impair emotional development. The judge then considers each of the following factors:

  • the grandparents' willingness to encourage a close relationship between the child and the child's parents
  • the child's preference if the child is mature enough to have an opinion
  • the child's mental and physical health
  • either parent's domestic violence against the other parent or child.
  • whether the grandparent has an established relationship with the child if the parent has given up custody or abandoned the child financially
  • any living parent's wishes, and
  • other factors relevant to the custody decision.

Courts also consider the nature, establishment, and development of a relationship between the grandparent and grandchild. For example, if a grandfather has been a primary caregiver for the child, he'll have a better chance of winning visitation rights than a grandparent who has only seen the child occasionally. If the judge grants a grandparent visitation rights, the court will issue a visitation schedule for the family to follow.

Grandparents can make a request for visitation no more than once every 24 months, but one grandparent's visitation request won't preclude a different grandparent from filing for visitation within the same two-year period. During a grandparent visitation rights case, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests at the grandparent's sole expense, so long as it's not a financial hardship.

A parent or guardian can also petition the court to revoke or amend the grandparent's visitation rights. Unless the grandparent has been abusive, the parent or guardian can't ask for modification of grandparent's visitation more than once every 24 months.

When a parent asks a court to modify the custody order, judges consider the child's relationship with all significant persons in the child's life, including involved grandparents. Judges may also consider to what extent the parents have allowed the grandparents visitation and how often each grandparent visited the child. If a parent is moving to be closer to a grandparent, judges will consider that as well; it's important for the child to have a support system in the new location.

Can Grandparents Win Custody of a Grandchild?

In certain instances, Alabama courts can even grant grandparents primary custody of a grandchild. For example, in one case, a child's mental and physical condition improved greatly after living temporarily with the grandparents rather than the mother, who had mental health issues. The judge granted the grandparents custody over the mother. Keep in mind, however, that this is reserved for extreme cases, where the parent or parents are unfit to have custody.

In another case, the court granted permanent custody to the paternal grandparents and terminated the natural parents' parental rights when the evidence showed that both parents suffered from mental illness and drug addiction and made no efforts to rehabilitate when faced with the possibility of losing child custody.

It's also possible for a court to grant custody to one grandparent and visitation to another.

If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation rights, contact an Alabama family law attorney.

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