Far too frequently, and especially after a divorce, grandparents may be shoved out of their grandchildren’s lives. Texas grandparents who want to exercise their legal rights in such cases will need guidance and legal advice from a San Antonio family law attorney.
After parents get divorced, the custodial parent may keep the ex-spouse’s parents away from the grandchild or grandchildren. In certain cases, grandparents may have concerns about the well-being and safety of a grandchild or grandchildren. In other cases, a single parent may have left the child to be raised by the grandparent for a number of years, but without warning, one parent or the other suddenly decides to take the grandchild away. What are grandparents’ legal rights in Texas?
Grandparents can play a key role in a child’s life. When a parent separates a child from his or her grandparents, it’s painful for the grandparents and the child too. Do grandparents have a legal visitation right? Or can they take steps to establish a legal right to visitation?
If you’ll keep reading this brief introduction to grandparents’ rights in Texas, you will learn the answers about a grandparent’s legal options regarding visitation and child custody after a divorce.
Do Grandparents Have a “Legal” Visitation Right?
Everyone knows that divorce is difficult for children. After a divorce, grandparents can provide a child with encouragement and emotional support when it is most needed, but unfortunately, that encouragement and emotional support may be denied if the grandparents are kept away.
The rights of grandparents are recognized by the Texas courts in some specific situations. Grandparents have the legal right to seek visits with their grandchildren after a divorce in some cases. In such cases, the courts take a number of factors into account when making determinations about grandparents and their visitation rights.
Whenever a case that involves a child comes before a Texas court, the highest priority is the child’s best interests – with one exception. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that grandparents have no absolute legal right to visit a grandchild without a parent’s consent, even if the visits are in a child’s best interests.
What is Troxel v. Granville?
In Troxel v. Granville (2000), the United States Supreme Court justices held that, if the custodial parent objects, grandparents do not have a general legal right to visit their grandchildren. The Court in this case declared unconstitutional Washington State’s law that gave grandparents – when it was in a child’s best interests – a legal visitation right even if a custodial parent objected. The law applies to all states, but states have some ability to craft laws that work around that.
If you’re a grandparent in Texas, you may not find it easy to establish visitation rights or to win a grandchild’s custody. Note that there are different requirements depending upon whether the grandparent is seeking full custody, visitation only, or adoption. You will need the advice and services of an experienced and reliable Texas family law attorney.
Because the courts – since Troxel v. Granville – place parents’ rights over grandparents’ rights, winning a legal visitation right may be difficult for grandparents. Nevertheless, Texas law offers several ways that grandparents may win visitation rights with help from a San Antonio grandparents’ rights lawyer.
Grandparents deserve the right to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives even after a divorce. You may face some legal barriers, but if you’re a Texas grandparent who seeks visitation rights, a San Antonio family lawyer can offer you several legal options and fight on your behalf if the conditions are met.
What Does It Take to Win Grandparental Visitation Rights?
Even without a custodial parent’s approval, some Texas grandparents may be able to win a court order allowing visitations. A grandparent must prove that the inability to communicate and visit with a grandchild will “significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.” The word “significant” means more than just making the child sad, and an expert’s opinion may be required.
A petition for visitations by grandparents will be approved by a Texas court only if that court makes several findings. The first finding is that visitations must be in the best interests of the child, and the court also must find that one or more of the conditions listed below also apply:
- At least one parent is in jail or prison, deceased, or has been deemed legally incompetent.
- At least one parent has abused or neglected the grandchild.
- At least one parent’s legal parental rights have been terminated.
- The grandchild has lived with a grandparent or grandparents for at least six months.
- The grandchild’s parents have divorced, in addition to other factors.
Is Going to Court a Grandparent’s Only Option?
Whenever grandparents seek visitation rights, they must be able to explain the nature of their relationship with their grandchild, to show why their visits are in the best interests of the child, and to offer other testimony, evidence, or proof that can help the court make the right decision. If the parent has kept the child isolated from the grandparent for a long period of time, then the situation becomes more difficult to prove as time increases. Often the grandparent does not want to further alienate their own child by taking them to court and essentially alleging that the parents are unfit.
Court isn’t the only or necessarily the right option for grandparents who are seeking visitations. Formal mediation – away from a courtroom – may be more effective. Mediation reduces tensions, helps both sides find common ground, and keeps down legal costs. If an agreement can be reached, then an agreed order can be put into place without the courtroom drama.
A San Antonio family law attorney can discuss the details of the mediation process and help grandparents who are seeking visitation rights to begin that process.
When May a Grandparent Seek Child Custody?
Texas grandparents may seek child custody if they believe it is in the best interests of the child and if they can meet at least one other factor. Under Texas law, child custody is called “conservatorship.”
Texas grandparents may ask the court for “managing conservatorship” of a grandchild in either of two situations:
- If there’s proof that a child’s current living situation is a risk to the child’s emotional or physical health.
- If both parents, a surviving or divorced parent, or a child’s conservator agree that awarding custody to a grandparent or grandparents is in the best interests of the child.
When grandparents in Texas seek conservatorship or visitation rights, the court examines a number of items and balances a variety of considerations, including whether a parent has voluntarily left the child in the grandparents’ exclusive care for a long period of time. If you are a grandparent and you are seeking custody or visitation rights, consult first with a San Antonio grandparents’ rights lawyer.
Texas grandparents may be able to win visitation rights or conservatorship in some situations by offering the court clear and convincing evidence that granting their request is in fact in the grandchild’s best long-term interests.
Carefully Consider Your Attorney’s Recommendations
Of course, every family’s situation is unique, so it’s important to have sound, personalized legal advice in any situation where grandparents may be considering legal action.
Carefully consider your lawyer’s recommendations and your legal alternatives, because your relationship with your grandchild is what will be determined by the court – or in the mediation process – when you seek conservatorship or visitation rights.
Grandparents in these cases cannot afford to make the wrong choices. Bringing a contested lawsuit can be expensive and cause harm to family relationships. Have an experienced Texas family law attorney advise you and discuss your rights as a grandparent, your legal options, and the possible consequences of acting on those options.