Sadly, a divorce or the death of one parent can mean the end of a grandparent’s right to see a child. Florida’s laws regarding grandparent visitation are among the most restrictive in the nation. However, recent changes in the state’s laws do give grandparents the right to petition the court for visitation in certain limited circumstances. If you are dealing with a dispute over grandparent visitation, an experienced family law attorney can help you work toward the solution that is best for your child.Petitions for Visitation
Florida policy prefers that families resolve grandparent visitation disputes within the family. If this is not possible, a grandparent may petition the court for visitation, but only if certain conditions are met. This is because in Florida, parents have the right to control who sees their children. Petitions are permitted if either:
- Both parents of the child are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state; or
- One parent is deceased, missing, or in a vegetative state, and the other parent has been convicted of a felony or an offense demonstrating a substantial threat of harm to the child.
A parent is considered to be missing if his or her whereabouts have been unknown for at least 90 days and the parent cannot be located after a diligent search.
Notice of the petition must be served on the child’s parents. After a petition is filed, if the court finds some evidence that visitation is warranted, it must refer the case to family mediation. In mediation, a neutral third party attempts to help the parents and grandparent come to a mutually acceptable solution.
If the family cannot resolve the visitation issue in mediation, there will be a hearing in court. After the hearing, the court may award grandparent visitation if there is clear evidence that:
- A parent is unfit or there is significant harm to the child;
- Grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child; and
- Visitation will not materially harm the parent-child relationship.
The court looks at several factors to determine whether grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests, including:
- The grandparent’s willingness to foster a good relationship between the child and parents;
- The duration and quality of the child’s relationship with the grandparent prior to the divorce;
- The parent’s reasons for ending contact with the grandparent;
- The child’s preference;
- The mental and physical health of the child and the grandparent;
- A guardian ad litem’s recommendation;
- The results of psychological testing on the child; and
- Any other factors the court deems relevant.
When determining if visitation will materially harm the parent-child relationship, courts consider factors including:
- Prior childrearing disputes between the parent and grandparent;
- Whether visitation would interfere with parental authority;
- Whether visitation can be arranged so as not to detract from the child’s relationship with the parent;
- The relationship between the parent and the grandparent;
- The parent’s reason for ending contact between the child and grandparent;
- The toll of visitation disputes on the child; and
- Any other factors necessary to the court’s evaluation.
An order of visitation with a grandparent may be modified in some situations. The party seeking modification must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances and that the modification is in the child’s best interests.
In the event of an adoption by a stepparent or close relative, the stepparent may petition the court to terminate a visitation order that was entered before the adoption. The court may terminate the order unless the grandparents can show that the conditions that lead the court to grant the visitation still exist.
If you have become involved in a dispute regarding grandparent visitation, an attorney can help you reach a solution that is best for your family and the child. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein to schedule a free consultation.