Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Colorado?

Learn what courts consider when deciding grandparent visitation issues in Colorado.

Grandparents are known for happily doting on their grandchildren, and many grandparents play vital roles in their grandchildren's lives. However, when a grandchild's family home splits apart, or a parent dies, grandparents' ability to spend time with the grandchild can fracture. When a parent loses custody, many grandparents want to know if they still have the right to see their grandchildren.

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

When Can Grandparent's Ask for Visitation?

When parents freely allow grandparents to visit with their grandchildren, there's no need for grandparents to seek court-ordered visitation. Grandparents may seek visitation rights when there is or has been a custody case involving the children. Grandparent's visitation cases may arise when any of the following occur:

  • the child's parents divorce, separate, or seek annulment
  • a court awards legal custody to someone other than the child's parents, or the child is placed outside the parents' home (excluding adoption), or
  • the child's parent who is the grandparent's child dies.

Grandparents can seek visitation when any of the above events occur, regardless of whether custody is an issue in a pending court case. Paternity cases also create an opportunity for grandparents to seek visitation rights.

Grandparents seeking visitation rights must file a motion for visitation in the district court of the county where the child lives. They can file the motion in an active custody case, or in a new case if no custody case is currently pending. The motion should include an affidavit stating the facts that have occurred that give the grandparent the right to ask for visitation. The grandparent must serve a copy of the motion on the person who has legal custody of the child. Grandparents can't seek visitation with grandchildren more than once every two years unless there's good cause, such as the death of a parent or the parents' divorce. Unlike in some other states, great-grandparents in Colorado can't seek visitation rights.

How Courts Decide Whether to Grant Grandparents Visitation

Courts deciding grandparent visitation rights cases must determine whether the requested visitation is in the child's best interest. The judge also has to weigh a parent's objection to grandparent visitation against the potential benefit of the grandchild-grandparent relationship.

A court deciding whether to grant grandparent visitation starts with the presumption that the child's parent is acting in the child's best interests. When a fit parent objects to a grandparent's visitation request, the court will typically defer to that decision. The grandparent must prove clearly and convincingly that the parent's visitation decision isn't in the child's best interests. Grandparents must also show that the visitation schedule they request is appropriate for the child.

Judges consider several factors when deciding whether grandparent visitation is in a child's best interest. Courts want to ensure that the requested visitation is for the child's benefit. One judge denied maternal grandparents' visitation because they often criticized the child's father during visits, causing the children stress and undermining the father's authority. Another court denied a grandmother visitation who wanted to take the children to church since her daughter didn't take them; grandparents can't use visitation to overrule the parent's decisions on religion.

Courts may be more likely to grant grandparent visitation in cases where the grandparent's child can't exercise visitation. For example, if a father relocated for work, but his parents still live nearby, grandparent visitation in place of the father's can help maintain the child's relationships with both sides of the family.

A court order terminating a parent's visitation doesn't automatically terminate the grandparent's visitation rights. For example, if a court terminated a mother's visitation time due to misconduct, the maternal grandparent's visitation could still continue.

Visitation Rights After Adoption

Adoption by a stepparent doesn't terminate a grandparent's court-ordered visitation. For example, if a paternal grandparent has visitation with a grandchild, and the child's mother's new spouse adopts the child, the paternal grandparent can still exercise visitation with the child. On the other hand, if the child's father no longer had custody because a court has terminated his custodial rights, the paternal grandparent's visitation automatically ends.

If a person other than the child's stepparent adopts a child, grandparent visitation terminates. The adoption severs not only the relationship between the child and the child's natural parents, but all of the natural parent's relatives as well. Even adoption by a cousin, aunt or uncle terminates grandparent visitation. The one exception to this rule is when the child is adopted after the child's parent dies; for example, when a maternal aunt and uncle adopted a child after the child's parents died, a Colorado court allowed the grandparents' visitation to continue.

Can Grandparents Win Custody of a Grandchild?

When a judge determines that there's no fit natural or adoptive parent to have legal custody of a child, the court can grant custody to a grandparent. The grandparent must be willing and able to care for the child, and must have appropriate parenting abilities. Before a court will grant a grandparent custody, it must first conduct a diligent search to find any living natural or adoptive parents that could take custody of the child. For example, if a single mother died, the court will try to identify the child's father as a potential custodian before awarding custody to a grandparent.

When a child is removed from a parent's home due to the parent's misconduct or inability to care for the child, the department of human services in Colorado will give a grandparent preference over anyone besides the child's other parent. Grandparents also have first preference for temporary custody when the parents are unable to have custody.

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

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