Divorce, separation, or one parent's death can affect grandparents' relationship with their grandchildren, especially if a surviving parent tries to limit their visits. This article explains when and how grandparents can request court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren in Massachusetts.
Do I Have a Legal Right to Grandparent Visitation?
Grandparents have a legal right to request reasonable visitation with their grandchildren during or after divorce or separation, or after one parent dies.
What Must I Prove in Court?
In Massachusetts, courts presume (assume) that parents are qualified to decide how their children spend their time. The only time a judge may give a grandparent court-ordered visitation over a parent's objection is when it's necessary to protect the grandchild from harm. If your grandchild's parent rejects your request to spend time with your grandchild, you must demonstrate that visits would be necessary for the child's health, safety, or welfare.
The grandparent asking for visits has the "burden of proof" (the duty to provide sufficient evidence) to show that spending time with the child will prevent actual or potential harm based on:
If you can prove that spending time with you would prevent or reduce a substantial risk of harm based on one or more of the above factors, the court may grant your request.
What If My Grandchild's Parents are Unmarried?
Grandparents can ask for court-ordered time with their grandchildren's regardless of the parents' marital status. However, if you're a paternal grandparent, and your grandchild's parents are unmarried, your son must establish his paternity before you can exercise your visitation rights.
How do I Start the Process?
You must file a "petition" (a formal written request) in the court making custody and visitation orders regarding your grandchild. In your petition, you will need to describe your proposed visitation schedule, including the days and times you would like to see your grandchild. Once you've filed your request, you must give notice to everyone involved, including the child's parents and anyone else that has filed for custody.
If you already have a 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) it or enforce the existing order.
Will I Still Have Visitation Rights If My Grandchild Is Placed for Adoption?
Grandparent visitation rights are terminated when a child is adopted by anyone other than a surviving parent's new spouse. But if your grandchild is placed in foster care, you may request visitation, even if the temporary guardian objects.
If you have questions about your right to spend time with your grandchild, you should speak to a local, experienced family law attorney, who can help you navigate this process.