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 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:
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).)
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).)
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).)
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:
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:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 14-10-124.5 (2023).)
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).)
Colorado law allows grandparents (and other nonparents) to file a petition for custody (or "allocation of parental responsibilities") if:
(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:
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).)
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.