What are grandparents’ rights to visitation in Massachusetts?
Grandparents have a legal right to request visitation with their grandchildren during or after a divorce or when one parent dies. That right only allows you access to the court and the ability to make the request. There is no grandparent visitation right, per se. A grandparent can request visitation if the parents:
- Are still married, but living apart, but the separation must be a court-ordered separation.
- Are divorced from each other.
- The parents never married, they are living apart, and
- The father has signed a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage” or
- There is a court judgment saying that he is the father
- Are deceased. It can be one or both parents.
The maternal grandparents (the parents of the mother) have an advantage over the paternal grandparents (the parents of the father) in that they may request visitation if the parents live apart and there is no signed Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage and no Court Judgment declaring he is the father.
What legal rights do grandparents have a to see their grandchildren?
As you can see, grandparents visitation rights are restricted in Massachusetts. They have no right to see the grandchildren if the parents of the child are married and living together. One of the above-listed circumstances must be present in order to request visitation.
Can grandparents be given visitation rights in a divorce?
In a Massachusetts uncontested divorce, you can agree to allow the grandparents of your children to have visitation rights. One of the big advantages of an uncontested divorce is that it allows the spouses a great deal of flexibility when coming to an agreement. If both parents stipulate to allow grandparents rights to visit with the children, then those rights will be recognized by the court.
Can a parent deny a grandparent visitation?
Generally, the answer is yes. Without one of these circumstances being present, the parents are assumed to be the best judge as to how their children spend their time. If they want to include the grandparents in their children’s lives they may do so. If they want to exclude the grandparents, they may do so as well.
How do I get visitation of my grandchildren?
Again, you must first fall into one of the categories listed above. If you do, you must file a Petition with the Court. The Petition must include a proposed visitation schedule including days and times of the visitation. A copy of the Petition is included below.
You also need to include an Affidavit. An Affidavit is a written document where you swear under the pains and penalties of perjury that the statements are true. In the Affidavit you should explain:
- The involvement and relationship between the grandparent(s) and grandchild(ren)
- Why contact between the grandparent(s) and grandchild(ren) was reduced or ended
- The current level of contact if any
- The significant harm to the child(ren)’s health, safety, or welfare that would likely occur if visitation is not ordered
The grandparent has a difficult battle. Not only must he or she show that it is in the child’s best interest to allow visitation. They must go beyond that standard and prove that it would be harmful to the child if visitation was denied. The court can give grandparents some visitation if they show at a hearing that:
- It is in their grandchild’s best interest; and
- They had an important relationship with their grandchild before the grandparent visitation case began; and
- It will be very harmful to their grandchild’s health, safety, or welfare if their grandchild cannot see them.
Two more commonly asked questions in conclusion:
Do grandparents have a legal right to see their grandchildren?
Yes, but only in certain circumstances. Even when those circumstances are present, it is an uphill battle for grandparents to gain visitation rights.
Can I stop my children from seeing her grandparents? (Asked by the parents)
Yes. If there is no Court Order, parents are free to deny grandparents visitation rights.
As you can see, grandparents’ visitation rights are a complex issue. It is full of emotion on all sides. It is best handled by an experienced family law attorney.