There is no doubt that grandparents play a valuable role in the lives of their grandchildren. Before American culture “modernized” and it became normal for adult children to move hundreds, if not thousands of miles from home, it was very common for children to grow up with their grandparents actively involved in their lives. The lucky children would have both sets of grandparents living nearby. Sometimes, grandchildren would live under the same roof as their parents and grandparents, especially when their grandparents became older and frailer.
What was your childhood like? Were both sets of grandparents in your life? Were you able to enjoy weekly visits with your grandparents? If so, you were probably the minority. Many adults these days admit that their grandparents lived far away growing up, but they got to see them at least once a year during the summer or holidays. Even if your grandparents lived in another time zone, you may have fond memories of visiting Grandma and Grandpa.
Grandparents Being Surrogate Parents
We cannot deny the fact that in our society, millions of grandparents are playing the role of surrogate parent for one reason or another. Often, biological parents cannot fulfill this role because of one or more of the following:
- The parents are incarcerated
- The child was being abused
- The child was being neglected
- The parents are alcoholics
- The parents are addicted to drugs
- The parents are homeless
- The parents abandoned the child
- A parent has mental health problems
- The parents are extremely poor
According to AgingCare.com, “In 2015, more than 2.6 million grandparents were responsible for the care of their grandchildren,” which brings us to the issue of grandparents seeking visitation and sometimes custody of their grandchildren.
Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in California
“Under California law, a grandparent can ask the court for reasonable visitation with a grandchild,” says the California Courts. In order for the court to give a grandparent reasonable visitation of his or her grandchild, the court must:
- Determine that the grandparent had a pre-existing relationship with their grandchild and that the bond is endangered. The court must find that the bond between the grandparent and grandchild is substantial enough that awarding visitation rights would be in the child’s best interests.
In the above scenario, the Family Court has to balance the child’s best interests with the rights of the parents to make their own decisions about their child. Generally, grandparents cannot ask for visitation of a grandchild when the child’s parents are married to each other; however, there are exceptions including:
- The child’s parents do not live together.
- One of the parents are missing and it’s been at least one month since they left.
- One of the child’s parents has joined the grandparents’ petition to visit with their grandchild.
- The child is not living with their mother or father.
- The child was adopted by a stepmother or stepfather.
The law regarding grandparents’ rights is covered under sections 3100-3105 of the California Family Code. To illustrate, Section 3103(b) explains that if a protective order has been directed to a grandparent, the court will determine if it would be in the grandchild’s best interests to deny the grandparent visitation. Section 3103(d) says, “There is rebuttable presumption affecting the burden of proof that the visitation of a grandparent is not in the best interest of a minor child if the child’s parents agree that the grandparent not be granted visitation rights.”
“What if I want to seek custody of my grandchildren?” If you want to seek custody of your grandchildren, this is a possibility depending on the circumstances of your case. In California, when a non-parent wants to seek custody of a child, it’s called guardianship. For example, if your son or daughter dropped your grandchildren off at your house and they’ve been absent for some time, or if the parents are addicted to drugs, you may want to ask the court to become the children’s guardian. Or, if one or both parents are going to rehab for a while, or if one of them is in the Armed Forces and going overseas, you may need to ask the court for guardianship.
Petitioning the Court for Guardianship
In California, when the court awards guardianship to grandparents, it means they have custody of the child, or they manage the child’s estate, or they are doing both. If the court awards grandparents’ guardianship, the following applies:
- The child’s parents still have “parental rights.”
- The child’s parents can ask the court to see their child.
- If the parents become “fit” to care for the child, they can ask the court to end the guardianship.
- The grandparents (the guardians) may be supervised by the court.
If you are considering guardianship and it is awarded, you will be fully responsible for your grandchild’s care. This includes his or her food, clothing, shelter, medical and dental care, education, physical and emotional growth, and safety. You will also be responsible for supervising your grandchild and you could be held legally liable if your grandchild intentionally damages someone else’s property.
When a grandparent petitions to be a guardian, the court will carefully look at the facts of the case and determine if awarding a guardianship to the grandparents would be in the child’s best interests. Essentially, the court’s priority is to ensure the child is being raised in a stable, loving home. Grandparents can provide this for a child when their biological parents are not able to.
To learn more about grandparents’ rights in Los Angeles, contact our office to schedule a free case evaluation with a compassionate member of our legal team!