Grandparents usually celebrate the birth of grandchildren and want to play a large role in their lives. In some cases, however, grandparents haven't been very involved, or a child's parent may want to limit grandparent visitation. In other cases, parents may divorce, die, or move away. Grandparents in these situations often want to know whether they have a right to visitation with their grandchildren.
This article explains the visitation rights of grandparents in Alaska. If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation in Alaska after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.
Grandparents are eligible to file a petition for visitation between grandparent and child if:
If the court makes a custody decision, during a divorce or otherwise, grandparents can intervene to ask for visitation rights. If they don't, they won't be able to request visitation at a later time, unless the custodial parent or child's circumstances have changed such that the court should reconsider grandparent visitation.
Most married parents are happy to have grandparents spend time with their children. In some cases, however, the married couple doesn't want a grandparent in the child's life. In these cases, a grandparent may petition the court for formal visitation with the grandchild.
When parents and grandparents disagree about grandparent visitation, the court will typically show the parents some deference, presuming that the parents know what's best for the child (unless proven otherwise). The grandparent must show clear and convincing evidence that the requested visitation is in the child's best interest.
The grandparent also has the burden of showing a continuing effort to establish a relationship with the grandchild. For example, one grandmother requesting visitation was told by the court that she had to show proof of reaching out to her grandchildren, regardless of whether the mother had tried to connect the children and grandmother. Given the grandmother's lack of attempts to reach the grandchildren and a strained relationship between the mother and grandmother, the court denied her visitation with her grandchildren.
When parents divorce or legally separate, or one or both parents die, the court can grant visitation to a third party, such as a grandparent if it's in the child's best interest. When divorcing parents seek an uncontested divorce, they must resolve all issues pertaining to the custody of any minor children, including whether or not grandparents will be allowed visitation.
Judges may decline to grant formal grandparent visitation if the evidence shows that the parents agree to allow visitation between the child and grandparent informally. In one case, for example, divorcing parents each agreed that the children could visit with both sets of grandparents during their own custodial time, the court declined to complicate things by adding formal visitation for both sets of grandparents.
When determining whether or not to grant grandparent visitation, the court will specifically look at whether there's a history of child abuse or domestic violence between the grandparent's son or daughter who is parent to the grandchild. If the grandchild's parent is abusive, the court may place restrictions on the grandparent's visitation to ensure the abusive parent doesn't harm the child.
When a custody or visitation decision is before the court, the judge can appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests, including when a grandparent is asking for visitation. The court may assign the costs of the guardian to the grandparent, if appropriate.
If a court terminates a parent's parental rights, it also terminates the relationship between that parent's relatives and the child. Grandparents whose child has lost parental rights can't petition the court for visitation.
When a child is adopted by a non-relative, it severs not only the legal relationship between the adopted child and natural parents, but also all other natural relatives of the adopted child. If the adoptive parents and natural parents agree, however, the natural parents may still have visitation with the adopted child. Similarly, the adoptive parents may structure the adoption to allow for visitation between the adopted child and natural grandparents; this decision is usually made at the time of the adoption. An adopted child can't inherit from the natural parents or grandparents unless the adoption decree specifically states that inheritance rights will continue.
If the adoptive parents are relatives of the child, the court can still grant grandparents visitation if it's in the child's best interest. Grandparents' visitation rights aren't automatic, however, as Alaska courts have denied visitation to grandparents who aren't fit to care for a child, or who allow the grandchild to spend time around an unfit parent.
In some cases, a grandparent may obtain primary custody of a grandchild. Judges will only favor a non-parent, including a grandparent, over a parent in a custody decision if the parent is unfit or otherwise unable to care for the child. When a child's parent or parents are unfit to have custody, have died, or abandoned the child, the court may grant custody to a grandparent. For example, in one case, the Department of Health and Social Services asked the court to terminate the parental rights of an alcoholic father who had abandoned the child for three years. A therapist testified that the child had formed deep bonds with the maternal grandparents, and the judge granted those grandparents primary custody of the child.
If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation rights, contact an Alaska family law attorney.