By Mike Stetzer
A divorce can have a tough emotional toll on all parties involved. When children are involved, divorce proceedings can become even more complicated. In addition to dealing with the idea that the marriage is over, parents must also consider child support, child custody and child visitation matters.
In this new divorce generation, grandparent rights have become a controversial issue. Grandparent-right supporters are pushing for court intervention, arguing that grandparents are an integral aspect to their grandchildren’s lives and they shouldn’t be denied visitation because the parents divorced.
On the other hand, there are people who oppose the court infringing too greatly on a person’s civil liberties, arguing that a child’s parent should determine who may or may not visit with their child.
Elisabeth Kirkman knows this fight all too well. She’s the state coordinator for a chapter of the Grandchildren/Grandparents Rights of North Carolina. She’s also a grandmother who’s been denied seeing her four grandchildren ages 5, 8, 9 and 13, according to an article in The Dispatch. It’s been three years since she’s seen her youngest daughter’s kids—and she’s been fighting for her rights ever since.
Kirkman’s grandparents' rights group serves as a support group for other grandparents who have been separated from their grandchildren and works hard to change the law. The group has been lobbying state legislators to sponsor a bill that would allow people to petition the court for visitation rights for grandparents.
Kirkman is just one of thousands of grandparents in the county who have been kept from visiting their grandkids for a variety of reasons, including the child’s parents filing divorce. She said that she wants to create the law to help other grandparents in similar situations.
"It’s one of the cruelest things a child can do to a parent—to take away their grandchildren," she told the newspaper. "Grandchildren are your children. You love them just as much."
Grandparents visitation and custody guidelines aren't necessarily guaranteed rights by law. Many state courts are starting to recognize grandparents' rights and create legislation to enforce those rights; however, it is important to note that some of the revised visitation laws may be constitutionality questioned.
For example, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in Troxel v. Granville that a Washington visitation law violated the due process rights of parents to raise the children. This case caused several states - Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Washington - to modify visitation statutes; however, many other states stood firm in visitation laws.
Visitation rights for grandparents is a relatively new subject for courts to take on and the law varies by state. If you have questions about whether you might have legal visitation rights, a local divorce lawyer could help you decide whether you should proceed through the courts to see you grandchildren again.
Grandparents who have been denied visitation rights should check the provisions in the states’ statutes to determine the conditions for visitation, factors the court must consider in ordering visitation rights and identify how to file a request for child visitation. If you do decide to proceed legally, you should be properly prepared because the burden of proof is generally upon the grandparent.
Although states may have similar statutes, state courts may apply statutory provisions differently. Every state requires family courts to consider the child's best interest before awarding custody or visitation to grandparents.
The legal visitation rights of grandparents can be a complicated issue. A divorce lawyer may be a good resource to help you determine how to proceed in gaining rights to see your grandchildren.