Grandparents can play a special role in the lives of their grandchildren. When parents divorce or separate, parents sometimes want to sever ties with their ex's parents. Grandchildren are often caught in the middle.
Grandparents can pursue visitation rights, but only if they're able to prove that visitation would serve their grandchild's best interests. Virtually every state recognizes some form of grandparent visitation privileges. However, some states' visitation laws are much more restrictive than others. It's important to understand the laws in your particular state. This article provides an overview of grandparent visitation rights in Wyoming.
There is no federal law governing grandparent visitation. The closest thing to a federal law is the U.S. Supreme Court case Troxel v. Granville decided in 2000. In Troxel, the Supreme Court reviewed a permissive grandparent visitation statute in Washington. Although the statute was ultimately upheld, Troxel sent the case back to the lower court to reapply the statute correctly.
What came out of Troxel was the principle that parents' visitation and custody rights always supersede grandparents' rights. Parents have a fundamental, constitutional right to raise their children, and grandparents' rights are secondary. Moreover, the Troxel case clarified that a grandparent's visitation privileges shouldn't get in the way of a stable parent's rights.
In Wyoming, courts start with the presumption that parents will meet their children's needs and serve their best interests. Obviously, in some situations, that's not the case. However, parents' and grandparents' visitation rights don't have to be at odds. A parent's lack of involvement in a child's life may serve as grounds for grandparent visitation. Likewise, grandparent visitation may be appropriate even in the case of a child well-cared for by his or her parents.
To establish grandparent visitation rights, a grandparent must file a petition with the court requesting visitation. For purposes of the statute, the term "grandparent" includes a grandparent or great-grandparent. A judge will assess the following factors to determine whether visitation is appropriate:
Wyoming courts have applied this test liberally, though on a case-by-case basis. A child's best interests will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and strength of the grandparent-grandchild relationship.
In one Wyoming case, a set of paternal grandparents won their request for visitation. The grandparents had been full-time caretakers of the grandchild for four years while the child's father was attending school. Once the father relocated with his child, the grandparents were given virtually no contact with their grandchild. The court determined that it was in the grandchild's best interests to have continuing visitation with her grandparents because of their strong bond. Although the parents claimed that they were inconvenienced by the visits, the court found that the child's parents were simply frustrated by their loss of control. The statute requires that a parent's rights be harmed, not inconvenienced.
A third party, such as a foster parent or grandparent, can seek custody of a child without the parents' consent under limited circumstances. Parental rights are protected by the Constitution and only clear and convincing evidence can overturn those rights. A judge can consider the following criteria to determine if a change of custody for the child is appropriate, including but not limited to:
Ultimately, a judge will order the custody arrangement that's in a child's best interests. In one Wyoming case, foster parents and a maternal grandfather both sought custody of a child. The child's mother voluntarily put the child in state custody at age two. The child was immediately placed in foster case. Around the same time, the child's grandfather sought custody of his grandchild and the mother objected. Nearly all of the above elements were met as a result of the mother's lack of involvement in her child's life.
A Wyoming court has the final decision to grant or deny an adoption. In this case, the foster parents were awarded custody and the grandfather's requests for custody or visitation were both denied. The court's decision was based on the fact that the child had been in the foster parents' care for nearly three years, the foster parents and the child had a strong bond, and the grandfather was the adoptive parent of the child's mother and thus had no biological ties to the child. Grandparent visitation wasn't awarded in this case because the court found it wasn't in the child's best interests.
As in the case discussed above, it's rare for a grandparent to obtain visitation with an adopted grandchild unless the adoption is by a family member. In another Wyoming case, a maternal grandmother sought visitation after her grandchild was adopted by an unrelated couple. The child's mother (the grandmother's biological daughter) gave up her parental rights and consented to the adoption. The court denied the grandmother's request, because adoption severs the parent-child relationship and thus cut-off the grandmother's ability to seek visitation.
In some cases, grandparents offer stability and security to their grandchildren's lives. Divorcing or separating parents often want to cut ties with a former partner's family. Many grandparents feel the need to intervene and preserve visitation. In most cases, a grandparent's rights are seen as secondary to a parent's. However, there's legal recourse for grandparents who have formed a strong bond and want to stay involved in their grandchildren's lives. If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation or custody rights in Wyoming, contact a local family law attorney for advice.