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A look at the law surrounding grandparents' visitation rights

Massachusetts parents and grandparents interested in custody issues may wish to know more about how courts and state laws address grandparent visitation. When there is a dispute over visitation rights, state law may require unique circumstances in order to go against a parent's wishes.

When it comes to visitation, grandparents' rights can be difficult to obtain when the parents object to them. An important U.S. Supreme Court decision addressed the issue of what the law says when parents and grandparents are fighting over visitation. As long as the parent is caring for the child, the court held, the government cannot force them to allow the grandparents to visit, except in special situations. Essentially, the court held that the parent has ultimate control over parenting decisions.

State laws have followed this decision, often taking a stronger stance against grandparents' rights. For instance, Connecticut requires that the grandparent show that the child will be subject to harm at the hands of the parent in order to force visitation. In Maine, one important case allowed visitation when the grandparents had previously been the primary caregivers of a child. This is an example of a situation where a court may find that extending the grandparent-grandchild relationship is in the best interests of the child. However, when the grandparents and the parents have a seriously antagonistic relationship, this may cause a court to deny visitation to grandparents. As always, the best interests of the child are paramount, so a court will seek to avoid that antagonism if it will affect the child.

Understanding grandparents' custody and visitation issues can be difficult without the assistance of an attorney. The attorney may also be helpful in representing a grandparent or parent in court during a child custody hearing.

Source: American Bar Association, "Obtaining Visitation With or Custody Of Grandchildren," Jeff Atkinson, Accessed April 8, 2015

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