Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Arkansas?

Learn what rights grandparents have when it comes to visiting their grandchildren.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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In many families, grandparents play as large a role in raising a child as the child's parents. Some grandparents act more like parents to their grandchildren than the child's parents do. Heavily involved grandparents often wonder what legal rights they may have to custody or visitation with their grandchildren.

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

When May Grandparents Request Visitation?

Grandparents in Arkansas may file a petition for visitation with grandchildren in a circuit court, if one of the following events occurs:

  • the child's parents are no longer married due to death, divorce, or legal separation
  • the child is illegitimate, and the maternal grandparent wants visitation, or
  • the child is illegitimate, but paternity has been established and the paternal grandparent wants visitation.

If a child's parents are married, grandparents can't ask for visitation; it's only when there's some breakup of the child's family home that grandparents can request visitation with a grandchild. Great-grandparents may also request visitation with a child.

How Judges Decide Whether to Grant Grandparents Visitation

When deciding whether to grant grandparent visitation, the judge starts with the presumption that the parents are correct in denying visitation to the grandparent or great-grandparent. In other words, the judge assumes that the child's parent or custodian knows what's best for the child unless proven otherwise.

In order to win visitation rights, a grandparent must prove that he or she has established a significant relationship with the child, and that visitation is in the child's best interest. Grandparents can show their relationship with grandchildren by showing one of the following:

  • the grandparent requesting visitation was the caregiver for the child for at least six consecutive months
  • the grandparent requesting visitation had regular or frequent contact with the child for at least 12 consecutive months, or
  • any other facts that show that the loss of relationship between the child and grandparent would be likely to harm the child.

Also, when determining whether grandparent visitation is in the child's best interest, the court will consider whether the grandparent can give the child love, affection and guidance. A grandparent seeking visitation must also show a willingness to cooperate with the child's parent or parents if the judge grants visitation.

If the court approves grandparent visitation, visitation can occur whether the child's mother or father has physical custody. In other words, a paternal grandparent or great-grandparent can have visitation during the mother's custodial time, and maternal grandparents during the father's custodial time. After a judge grants visitation, both parents and grandparents can petition the court to modify visitation, add or modify restrictions on visitation, or sanction a parent or grandparent who hasn't followed the visitation order.

Visitation Rights After Adoption

Grandparents in Arkansas can request visitation with a grandchild even if the child's parents don't have custody. The court can order grandparent visitation if it's in the child's best interests. Adoption, on the other hand, severs the legal relationship between the child and the child's parents, as well as all of the parent's relatives, including grandparents.

Grandparents have no right to visitation with grandchildren that have been adopted by someone other than the child's parents or stepparents. Even if a child is adopted by other family members, the judge can still terminate grandparents' visitation.

Can Grandparents Win Custody of a Grandchild?

Arkansas courts sometimes award custody to a grandparent instead of a parent. Grandparents have the right to petition the court for custody of a child whenever any of the following occurs:

  • a grandchild lives with a grandparent for at least six months before the child's first birthday, or at least one year if the child is older than 12 months.
  • the grandparent was the child's primary caregiver and financial supporter while the child lived with the grandparent, and
  • the grandparent had physical custody of the child within one year of the time the custody case began.

When deciding custody between a parent and grandparent, the judge will consider whether the grandparent or parent is more likely to allow the child to have frequent contact with the noncustodial grandparent or parent. A parent or grandparent's history of domestic abuse lowers that person's chance of winning custody. In contested custody cases, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests, with the guardian's fees paid by a state fund.

If you have additional questions about grandparents' visitation rights, you should consult an Arkansas family law attorney.

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