Grandparents’ Visitation Rights

April 22, 2015

Florida law is quite restrictive about visitation rights for grandparents. However, a bill in the current legislative session seeks to loosen those restrictions somewhat. HB 149 has passed the House, and its counterpart, SB 368, is making its way through the Senate.

The Bill

House Bill 149 would provide that if either:

  • Both parents were dead, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state, or
  • One parent was dead/missing/vegetative and the other had been convicted of a felony or a violent offense threatening the child’s health or welfare,

Then a minor child’s grandparent would be able to petition for court-ordered visitation with the child. To win visitation rights, the grandparent would have to show parental unfitness or significant harm to the child. If the grandparent cannot make that showing, then he or she would have to pay court costs and attorney’s fees.

The court would then be able to award reasonable visitation if it found that:

  • A parent was unfit or there was significant harm to the child,
  • The visitation was in the child’s best interest, and
  • The visitation would not harm the relationship between the parent and the child.

The bill lists factors to be considered in determining the child’s best interest and whether material harm exists.

The bill would further provide that if child was adopted by a stepparent or close relative, the stepparent or close relative could petition the court to terminate the grandparent’s visitation rights. The court would be required to terminate those rights unless the grandparent could show that the criteria for the initial authorization of the visitation still existed.

Current Law

Florida’s current laws regarding when grandparents can be granted visitation rights are strict, especially if one parent does not want the grandparents to see the child. Currently, grandparents or great-grandparents can request visitation rights if:

  • The parents’ marriage has dissolved,
  • A parent has deserted the child, or
  • The child was born out of wedlock and the parents did not later marry.

Courts consider several factors when determining whether visitation rights should be granted:

  • The grandparents’ willingness to foster a close parent-child relationship,
  • The length and quality of the child’s and grandparent’s prior relationship,
  • The child’s preference,
  • The child’s mental and physical health,
  • The grandparent’s mental and physical health, and
  • Any other factors necessary under the circumstances.

If a child is adopted, the biological grandparents do not have visitation rights. However, if the child is adopted by a stepparent, the adoption will not automatically sever the grandparents’ rights. But the court may terminate those visitation rights if it is in the child’s best interest.

Florida protects the right to privacy and parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit. If a family is intact or a parent is widowed, the child is not suffering any demonstrable harm, and at least one parent objects to the visitation, the court will not grant a grandparent visitation rights. This is because it is not the court’s place to tell parents how to raise their children or to impose upon the parents its own idea of the child’s best interests.

If you are involved in a dispute regarding child custody or visitation rights, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.