Seeking Visitation Rights as a Grandparent in Missouri
Missouri family law protects children's right to a stable and safe home, balanced with parents’ rights to custody and visitation. However, the law also recognizes that it can be in a child’s best interests to have an ongoing relationship with their grandparents. Grandparents can, in certain situations, petition a court for an order granting them visitation rights. They can also ask a court to grant them custody of their grandchildren.
What’s the Difference Between Custody and Visitation?
It’s important to understand what custody and visitation mean in the context of discussing grandparents’ rights. Specifically, visitation refers to an individual’s right to spend time with a child. While Missouri law does not provide a distinct definition of the term, the statute makes the meaning clear — only parents and grandparents have visitation rights under state law.
Custody is a more complicated concept that broadly refers to the rights and obligations that come with parenthood. Missouri divides custody into two separate categories: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions affecting a child’s “health, education, and welfare.” Physical custody concerns the right to the “care and supervision” of a child, with all the responsibilities that come with that.
Do Grandparents Have the Right to See Their Grandchildren?
Grandparents have the legal right to see their grandchildren in Missouri. The state has a policy of providing children with “frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents” whenever possible — and both parents’ families should be included. However, a divorce decree or custody order will not include provisions for grandparents’ visitation unless the parents include such terms in an agreed-upon parenting plan accepted by the court.
Missouri law provides several options to grandparents who have been denied visitation with their grandchildren. If a grandparent makes a written request to the court, it may order the grandparent and the child’s custodian or custodians to attend mediation. The grandparent requesting mediation must pay the mediator’s fees. Either party may refuse to participate in further mediation if an agreement has not been reached after three sessions.
When Can Grandparents Assert Their Visitation Rights?
Under Missouri law, grandparents can legally request reasonable visitation with their grandchildren. Although Missouri law does not provide a standard visitation schedule for grandparents, the visitation must be within normal limits and in the child’s best interests. This right can be asserted if a grandparent has been unreasonably denied visitation for the preceding 60 days, and one of the following circumstances are met:
- The child’s parents are married and have filed for separation or divorce
- The child’s parents are not married and a grandparent has been unreasonably denied visitation for over 90 days
- A surviving parent denies visitation after the other parent’s death
- The child lived with the grandparents for six months or more before filing a petition for visitation
- The child was adopted by a stepparent or another relative
Only biological grandparents have the right to request visitation. A grandparent can intervene in an ongoing divorce case to establish a right to visitation, or they can file a motion to modify an existing divorce decree to add visitation rights.
Can Parents Object to Grandparent Visitation?
Courts in Missouri presume that parents will act in the best interests of their children. Accordingly, if a parent objects to the grandparent’s visitation on the grounds that it would not be in the child’s best interests, the court will give serious weight to the objection.
A grandparent has the burden of proof to show that the requested visitation is in the child’s best interests, in light of their health, safety, and welfare, and must provide adequate evidence to support their position. The court will consider the child’s age; impact of the visitation on their physical and mental health; the health and any criminal history of the parties involved; and the extent of the existing relationship the grandparent has with the grandchild.
Can Grandparents Get Custody of Their Grandchildren?
In some cases, a child’s parents may be unable to care for them. In these instances, a grandparent may step in and wish to obtain custody rights. A grandparents’ only means of getting custody of their grandchildren is through “third-party custody.” A court can award custody of a child to someone other than the parents if it “finds that each parent is unfit, unsuitable, or unable to be a custodian.”
State law allows “any person” to “petition the court to intervene as a party in interest,” which would make them a party to the case and allow them to assert a claim for custody. This includes grandparents. Because of the legal presumption that a child’s best interests are best served when the parents have custody, proving that their grandparents are better suited to be the child’s custodians can be challenging. But it can also be necessary in some unfortunate situations.
Contact an Experienced Kansas City Family Law Attorney
Grandparents’ rights can be a complex matter, and it’s essential to have a skillful attorney by your side to safeguard your interests and advocate on your behalf. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides compassionate counsel and reliable representation to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area who are facing child custody matters and visitation issues. To schedule a confidential consultation to learn how he can help, please contact him today online or by calling (816) 523-6100.