Visitation: grandparents’ rights to see grandchildren in Massachusetts

Grandparents and their grandchildren can have strong family ties important to the well being of each of them. When the grandchildren's parents divorce or are otherwise separated, family dynamics can sometimes harm the grandparent-grandchild relationship when one of the parents objects to the children spending time with the other parent's parents.

Sometimes the objection may even be against the parent's own parents seeing the kids. Massachusetts law provides some relief for grandparents in these types of circumstances who seek visitation rights.

Visitation by grandparents

" Visitation" is the legal term used to describe the right of an adult to visit with a child as granted by a court. Most commonly, visitation is a formal arrangement made for divorcing parents to spend time with their kids as part of a divorce decree. However, visitation issues can come up in other situations too like when a grandparent wants the legal right to see his or her grandchild.

Grandparents' visitation petitions allowed in certain family arrangements

Massachusetts law allows the grandparents of unmarried minor children to file court petitions asking for visitation rights in certain situations when the parents are not married or living together. For example, the law allows such grandparent visitation petitions when the child's parents are divorced, married living separately or under an order of separate support; when one or both of the parents are dead; or when the child was born to unmarried parents who live apart, but the paternity of the father is legally established (paternity must not be established for the maternal grandparents to petition).

The court may grant the grandparents' petition to visit their grandchild by a written finding that the visitation would be in the child's best interest. In the parental situations that allow for these petitions, grandparents may be able to add stability and richness to their grandchildren's lives when one or both of the children's parents may be largely absent. It can also be a way for a grandchild to keep contact and develop relationships with members of the extended family of one of his or her parents. Grandparent visitation rights under this provision of the law do not exist after the minor grandchild has been adopted by anyone other than a stepparent.

Massachusetts courts

Massachusetts courts in interpreting this grandparent visitation law apply a presumption that the parent's decision not to let the grandparent see the child (otherwise the grandparent would not have to go to court to get permission) is a valid parental decision made by a fit parent. To overcome this legal presumption, the grandparent who wants visitation needs to prove that for the court to deny him or her visitation would not be in the grandchild's best interest and would cause him or her "significant harm" by the resulting negative effect on "health, safety, or welfare."

The judge must present in writing his or her specific reasons for granting or not granting the grandparent's visitation petition.

Find a legal advocate

Any grandparent in Massachusetts considering seeking visitation rights with a grandchild should seek advice from an experienced family law attorney to understand the complicated legal issues involved and whether to file a petition for visitation. In contrast, any parent who opposes such an effort by a grandparent should speak with a knowledgeable lawyer to understand the parent's legal options in challenging the grandparent's efforts.