Generally, grandparents can't interfere with a parent's right to discipline a child or restrict visitation, except under very limited circumstances. But if a parent has limited your ability to visit your grandchild, there may be legal recourse. A grandparent can seek visitation if certain conditions are met and visitation is essential to the child’s well-being. This article provides an overview of grandparent visitation and custody laws in Connecticut. If you have specific questions, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Each state has its own requirements regarding grandparent visitation, and while there's no federal law governing grandparent rights, one Supreme Court case set the bar for all states. The case, Troxel v. Granville, involved a Washington grandparent visitation statute. Troxel requires courts to presume that parents act in their children’s best interests and to give special weight to parental objections to visitation. It’s not enough for a grandparent to prove that visits will benefit a grandchild. After considering the parent’s wishes, a grandparent may be entitled to visitation if the parent is not acting in the child’s best interests by preventing visits, and if visitation will benefit the child emotionally and/or physically.
Grandparents are entitled to broad legal protections in Connecticut. While parents and grandparents aren’t equal under the law, grandparents do have unique privileges. Specifically, grandparents can petition (request) visitation when the following factors are present:
In one Connecticut case, a father restricted visits with the maternal grandmother after the children’s mother committed suicide. The grandmother requested visitation over the father's objection. Prior to the mother's death, the grandmother visited the children several times a week and regularly babysat, cooked, and cared for the children. However, the grandmother lost her request because she didn't demonstrate that she had assumed parenting responsibilities or that the children would be harmed if they stopped seeing her.
Specifically, a judge should review the following factors to determine if a parent-like relationship exists:
A judge must balance grandparent visitation with the parent-child relationship. A parent’s time with a child comes first, so grandparent visitation cannot unreasonably interfere with the parent-child relationship.
There’s a presumption that a child’s best interests are served by keeping custody with a parent. A grandparent can overcome the parental preference by proving a parent-like relationship with the child and that parental custody is detrimental to a child’s well-being.
The actual harm requirement for visitation or custody requires proof that a child is emotionally or physically in danger in a parent’s care. Some examples might be where a parent refuses to take a child to school, provide for the child’s basic food, clothing or medical needs, or situations where a parent fails to protect the child from other abusers in the household.
For example, in one Connecticut case, the court refused to award custody to a child's aunt. Although the aunt had a strong bond with the child and granting her custody would serve the child’s best interests, it wasn’t enough. A third-party must show that removing the child from parental custody is essential to a child’s well-being. Because the aunt couldn't show that living with the father would harm the child, she was denied custody.
Placing a child for adoption may occur because of a parent’s choice to give up the child or due to a state finding of abuse or extreme neglect. In either circumstance, a termination of parental rights will usually sever a grandparent’s legal ties to a child as well.
In situations where a grandparent had a visitation order prior to the adoption, the court can continue or terminate the visitation schedule depending on the circumstances. Specifically, a grandparent with a consistent and ongoing relationship with the child is more likely to keep visitation rights after adoption. In cases of stepparent adoption, a grandparent may receive visitation rights when a parent-like relationship exists, and the child would be harmed by not seeing the grandparent.
In most situations, a relationship with a grandparent benefits a child’s life, but a parent usually has the final say over visits. A court won’t infringe on a parent’s decision-making rights unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. If you have additional questions regarding grandparent visitation or custody in Connecticut, contact a local family law attorney for advice.