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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.