Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Missouri?

Learn about grandparents’ rights to court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren after divorce, separation, adoption, or one parent’s death.

This article explains when and how grandparents in Missouri can request court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren after life-altering changes in the family structure.

When can I ask for court-ordered visitation with my grandchildren?

In Missouri, grandparents have a legal right to ask for reasonable visitation so long as it is not excessive or overly intrusive on the family. This right only applies to biological grandparents and may be exercised if:

  • the child's parents are married and file for divorce or legal separation
  • the surviving parent denies reasonable visitation rights after one parent's death, or
  • the child's parents are unmarried and the grandparent is unreasonably denied visitation for more than 90 days.

What must I prove in court?

The grandparent asking for visitation has the "burden of proof" (duty to provide sufficient evidence) to show that the proposed visits are in the child's best interests, considering health, safety, and welfare.

Judges automatically presume that parents act in their children's best interests, so they give great weight to parental preferences regarding who gets to spend time with their children. If your grandchild's parent objects to your visits, the court will consider this objection and carefully weigh it against the child's interest in spending time with you. If you successfully overcome this presumption in favor of the parent's preference, you must demonstrate that regular contact with you serves the child's best interests based on any relevant evidence, including:

  • the child's age
  • the impact of the visitation on the child's physical or mental health
  • the mental and physical health, and criminal history of all parties involved, and
  • the extent of the existing grandparent-grandchild relationship

The court may consider a child's wishes and/or appoint a custody evaluator to investigate each parent's and/or each grandparent's willingness and ability to meet the child's needs, interests, and daily schedules and routines. If the court finds that the proposed time serves the child's best interest, it may adopt it but can also impose reasonable conditions or restrictions in the final visitation order.

Can I request custody of my grandchild?

Missouri courts automatically presume that custody with natural parents is in a child's best interests, unless sufficient evidence warrants a different arrangement. Grandparents must pursue an adoption in order to request custody of their grandchildren.

Will my visitation rights be terminated if my grandchild is adopted by another family?

If your grandchild is adopted by someone other than a stepparent or blood relative after one parent dies, your grandparent visitation rights will be terminated and transferred to the adoptive grandparents, unless the adoptive parents agree to allow you some visitation time.

How do I start the process?

The first step is to file a "petition," (formal written request) in the court making custody and visitation orders regarding your grandchild and to notify everyone involved. In your petition, you will describe your proposed schedule for court-ordered visits. If you already have a visitation order, but you want more time or the child's parent is interfering, you can ask the court to "modify" (change) it, or enforce the order.

Prior to filing a petition, you may also request a mediation order to attempt to resolve the visitation dispute with your grandchild's parent. The request must be made in writing to the court in the county where the child resides, and the grandparent must cover the cost of the mediator. Once mediation begins, either party may discontinue the process after the third session.

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.

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