Life-altering changes to a family structure such as divorce, separation, or one parent's death can affect grandparents' relationship with their grandchildren. This article explains when and how you can ask for time with your grandchildren in Kentucky.
Do I Have a Legal Right to see My Grandchildren in Kentucky?
In Kentucky, grandparents have a legal right to request reasonable visitation with their grandchildren at any time—before or after divorce, separation, or one parent's death.
What do I Need to Prove in Court?
The grandparent asking for court-ordered time has the "burden of proof" (the duty to provide sufficient evidence) to show that visitation is in a child's best interest. Kentucky courts automatically presume parents act in their child's best interests and give special weight to their preferences regarding their child's care. If your grandchild's parent(s) object to grandparent visitation, you must overcome this "presumption" (legal assumption) by showing that spending time with you serves the child's best interests based on:
If you can establish the parent's objection is unfounded based on the above factors, the court may grant your request for scheduled visits.
Are My Visitation Rights Terminated If My Grandchild Is Adopted?
Once the court makes orders for grandparent visitation, those rights continue even if the parents' rights are terminated after placing the child for adoption. So if your grandchild is adopted after you are awarded time with the child, the adoption will not automatically cut off your visitation rights.
However, if your grandchild is adopted before you have court-ordered time, your right to ask for visits will be transferred to the adoptive grandparents, unless a judge finds that preserving your ties to the child serves the child's best interests.
Can I Seek Custody of My Grandchild?
Court-ordered visits gives you the right to spend time with your grandchild, but only legal custody creates the right to be involved in parenting decisions and only physical custody gives you the right to have the child live with you. In Kentucky, courts consider multiple factors to choose a custody arrangement that serves a child's best interests, which could include:
Judges presume that custody with a biological or legal parent is in a child's best interests, unless the child has lived with a grandparent or any other "de facto parent" (any person acting as a parent) for at least six months (for a child under three years old) or one year (for a child over three years old).
If your grandchild lives with you and you are the child's primary caregiver and financial supporter, you can ask for custody unless the child's parent(s) demonstrate a justified reason for temporarily placing the child in your care, such as domestic violence and/or to look for employment or attend school.
How do I Start the Process?
You can request visitation by filing a "petition," (formal written request) in the district court for the county where your grandchild lives. If you already have a grandparent visitation order, but you want more time–or the child's parent is preventing you from visiting–you can ask the court to "modify" (change) or enforce the order. The grandparent seeking visitation or a modification of an existing order must file the petition—a parent of the child cannot initiate this process on a grandparent's behalf.
If you have questions, you should speak to a local, experienced family law attorney, who can help you navigate this process.