Grandparents play a unique role in their grandchildren's lives. Some parents embrace the help and wisdom that grandparents can provide. But in other instances, hard feelings or a grandparent's lifestyle might cause parents to limit or prevent visitation altogether.
When Florida parents are preventing visits, grandparents may request court-ordered visitation in only very limited situations. A judge's ultimate decision will depend on the unique circumstances of your case. This article provides an overview of grandparent visitation and custody rights in Florida.
Under Florida law, grandparents (including great-grandparents) may request court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren only if:
Parents are considered missing if their whereabouts aren't known for at least 90 days, despite a diligent search including inquiries with relatives, area hospitals, recent employers, law enforcement and other relevant governmental agencies, utilities, and the postal service, as well as searching a database for locating people.
If you're a grandparent or great-grandparent who meets Florida's threshold requirements (discussed above) for requesting court-ordered visitation, you'll need to file a Petition for Grandparent Visitation With Minor Child(ren) form in the family court of the judicial circuit for the county where the child lives. Check with the court clerk to see if you need to fill out other forms, such as a cover sheet.
The clerk will also let you know what the filing fee will be. If you can't afford to pay the fee, ask the clerk for a form to request assistance with the filing fee.
You'll also have to serve the child's parents with the court papers you've filed. (Fla. Stat. § 752.02 (2023).)
Once you've filed and served your petition for grandparent visitation, you'll need to go through several steps before a final decision.
First, the judge will hold a preliminary hearing to examine whether the grandparent has made a prima facie case (presented sufficient evidence) that a parent is unfit or there's significant harm to the child. If not, the judge will dismiss the case.
If the petition makes it through the preliminary hearing, the judge will then order the parent and grandparent(s) to participate in family mediation (as long as those services are available in the judicial circuit).
Meanwhile, the judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the child.
(Fla. Stat. §§ 752.011(1), (3), 752.015 (2023).)
If the family can't resolve the dispute over grandparent visitation in mediation, the next step is a final hearing. After that hearing, the judge may award reasonable visiation to the grandparent(s) only if there's clear and convincing evidence that all of the following are true:
(Fla. Stat. § 752.011(4) (2023).)
When judges are deciding whether grandparent visitation would be in the child's best interests, Florida law requires them to consider all of the circumstances that affect the child's mental and emotional well-being, including:
(Fla. Stat. § 752.011(5) (2023).)
Judges will also look at all of the relevant circumstances when deciding whether grandparent visitation would materially harm the parent-child relationship, including:
(Fla. Stat. § 752.011(6) (2023).)
As with all visitation and custody orders, judges may modify orders for grandparent visitation order if the person making the request can prove that:
(Fla. Stat. § 752.011(9) (2023).)
A parent and grandparent may also also agree on changes to the order. For example, they might agree that a visit once a month would work better than two times a month. But they'll need to submit their written, signed agreement to the court. The judge will usually approve the agreement and issue a modified order as long as it appears to be in the child's best interests.
Florida law limits how soon grandparents may request visitation after a previous request was denied. They may file a petition only once during any two-year period. The judge might make an exception to this rule if a grandparent can demonstrate that the child is suffering or might suffer mental or emotional harm caused by a parental decision to deny visitation—but only if that harm didn't exist when the grandparent filed an earlier request. (Fla. Stat. § 752.011(10) (2023).)
Adoption terminates all legal ties between a child and biological parents or grandparents, unless a stepparent or close relative adopts the child. In those situations, a grandparent might be entitled to visitation if a grandparent visitation order was in place before the adoption. However, a judge may terminate a grandparent visitation order when a stepparent or biological parent requests it, unless the grandparent can show actual harm. (Fla. Stat. § 752.071 (2023).)
If your grandchild's parents have kept you from seeing the child but you're still on speaking terms, your first step should be to ask if they would be willing to participate in mediation. Although custody mediation is usually used by parents who can't agree with each other about parenting time, it could also help parents and grandparents work out their differences about visitation. Sometimes, these conflicts arise from misunderstandings and communication problems. In those situations, a trained, neutral mediator can help people sort out the issues and identify possible solutions.
But when the parents refuse to go to mediation (or mediation doesn't work), you should know that it can be difficult to get court-ordered visitation. No matter what you think about a parent's choices, the law strongly favors their right to decide what's best for their child. The Florida Supreme Court has made it clear that grandparents' rights are always secondary to the rights of a parent or stepparent. Parents have a fundamental right to privacy in raising their own children, and grandparents don't have a right to visit grandchildren when the child's parents oppose the visitation—unless a judge orders otherwise. (G.S. v. T.B., 985 So.2d 978 (Fla. 2008).)
Even if the child has only one available parent, the judge will usually favor that parent's decisions unless you have strong evidence that the parent is unfit or harming the child. So if you believe you can overcome the hurdles in Florida law, you should strongly consider speaking with a local family law attorney who evaluate your situation and tell you whether you have a fighting chance of being successful with a petition for grandparent visitation.