Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Colorado?

Learn how Colorado deals with the issue of a grandparent’s custody and visitation rights.

By , Retired Judge
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Grandparents are known for doting on their grandchildren, and many play vital roles in their grandchildren's lives—usually with the encouragement and support of the parents. But grandparents don't automatically have a legal right to spend time with their grandchildren if the parents object. They may go to court to seek visitation or even custody in certain circumstances, but it won't be easy.

When Can Grandparents Request Visitation Rights in Colorado?

When a child's parent or other legal guardian isn't allowing a grandparent to have contact with the child, the grandparent may request reasonable visitation (known as "grandparent family time" in Colorado) if there is or has been a legal case involving the child's custody or the allocation of parental responsibilities, including when:

  • the child's parents get a divorce, legally separate, or the marriage has been annulled
  • someone other than the child's parent is awarded custody, or the child isn't living with a parent (but hasn't been placed for adoption), or
  • one of the child's parents (who is the grandparent's child) has died.

But a grandparent may not seek visitation when the parental rights of the grandparent's child (the parent of the grandchild) have been terminated. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.4(3) (2023).)

How to Request Grandparent Visitation in Colorado

In order to request family time with a grandchild or great-grandchild, you'll need to file a petition with the Colorado district court in the county where the child lives—as long as you haven't filed a similar petition within the past two years.

Along with your petition, you'll have to include an affidavit (sworn written statement) detailing the circumstances supporting your request. You also must notify the child's parents or legal guardian of your request, and give them with a copy of the affidavit. Anyone with legal custody of the child (usually the parents) may file their own affidavits opposing your request.

If you or the parents don't ask for for a court hearing, a judge may simply review your paperwork and decide whether to grant your request. But if the judge believes a hearing would be necessary—or anyone involved asks for it—you'll need to appear, present your evidence, and argue your case. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.4(4) (2023).)

What Do Grandparents Need to Prove to Get Visitation Rights?

Grandparents who are seeking visitation in Colorado must get over a significant hurdle. Judges will award grandparent family time only if it's in the child's best interests—and Colorado judges must start by presuming that the parents' wishes on the subject of grandparent visitation are in the child's best interests. This requirement follows the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has held that courts must presume that fit parents act in their children's best interests, and must give "special weight" to parents' decisions to limit or deny grandparent visitation. (Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).)

So when grandparents are seeking visitation in Colorado courts over the objection of the child's parents, they must present "clear and convincing" evidence that giving them family time would be in the child's best interests. When judges are deciding whether the grandparents have overcome the presumption favoring the parents' wishes, they'll consider the same "best-interests" factors that go into all child custody decisions in Colorado. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.4(4) (2023).)

These rules apply even if only one parent has denied visitation by the child's grandparents. (In re Marriage of O'Connor, 2023 COA 35 (Colo. App. 2023).)

Be aware that judges may establish, modify, or terminate grandparent visitation at any time if it's in the child's best interests. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.4(7) (2023).)

What If Parents Violate Grandparents' Visitation Rights?

Once you've succeeded in getting a court order for family time with your grandchildren, Colorado law allows you to go back to court and file a motion (written legal request) to enforce that order if the parents are violating your visitation rights. The parents may file a response to your motion. The judge may then:

  • deny the motion if it's clear from the initial paperwork that there wasn't a violation
  • schedule a hearing, or
  • order you and the parents to participate in mediation and report back on the results .

If there's a hearing, and the judge decides that a parent has violated the family time order or schedule, the judge may do any of the following:

  • impose additional conditions consistent with the previous visitation order
  • modify the previous order
  • require the parent to post a bond or security to ensure future compliance
  • require the parent to provide makeup family time for the grandparent
  • find the parent who has violated the order in contempt of court (which could involve a fine or jail sentence), and
  • award the grandparent actual expenses related to the enforcement request, including attorney's fees and court costs.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.5 (2023).)

Does a Child's Adoption Impact a Grandparent's Visitation Rights in Colorado?

Ordinarily, a child's adoption terminates a grandparent's existing visitation rights. But there's an exception to that rule when a stepparent adopts the child. In other words, if one of the child's natural parents remarries, and the new spouse adopts the child, the grandparent's existing visitation rights remain intact. (In re Marriage of Aragon, 764 P.2d 419 (Colo. App. 1988).)

When Can Grandparents Seek Custody of Their Grandchildren?

Colorado law allows grandparents (and other nonparents) to file a petition for custody (or "allocation of parental responsibilities") if:

  • the child isn't in a parent's physical care,
  • the grandparent has been physically caring for the child for at least 182 days (and files the custody petition within 182 days after that arrangement ended), or
  • the juvenile court has granted the grandparent custody or parental responsibilities.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-123(1) (2023).)

In child abuse or neglect cases, the juvenile court may give the grandparents preference for custody of their grandchild if the judge finds that:

  • it's in the child's best interests
  • the grandparent is capable, willing, and available to care for the child, and
  • there's no suitable natural or adoptive parent available.

This preference will also apply if the child is in the legal custody of a state agency (other than the Department of Human Services) that is seeking a suitable home for the child. But court approval is needed for placement. And here again, it must be in the child's best interests, and the grandparent must be capable, willing, and available to care for the child. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-115 (2023).)

Getting Help With Grandparent Visitation and Custody

Because of the legal presumption that parents know best, the road to winning grandparent visitation rights can be a winding one—and a positive outcome is anything but assured. It's always best if you and the child's parents can resolve your disagreements without heading to court, either on your own or with the help of mediation. But if you can't, at least consider speaking with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can explain your rights and responsibilities, and the best way to move forward.

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