The emotional toll that divorce can take on a couple sometimes extends to other family members, including grandparents. In some cases, the custody battle over the couple’s children is so contentious that the grandparents are prevented from seeing their grandchildren. This lack of contact can be heartbreaking for everyone involved.
If you are a grandparent who has been denied contact with your grandchildren, or you have concerns about the care they are receiving, a Virginia grandparents’ rights lawyer could help. Our firm’s experienced family attorneys are well-versed in the laws relating to grandparent custody and visitation and will work tirelessly to protect your right to be present in your grandchildren’s lives.
Grandparent’s Right to Visitation
There is no specific statute that specifically addresses grandparent custody or visitation. However, Virginia Code §20-124.1 identifies a grandparent as a ‘person with a legitimate interest,’ and under Virginia Code §20-124.2, a judge may grant custody or visitation to a person with a legitimate interest. Therefore, grandparents do have the legal right to seek visitation with their grandchildren under certain circumstances. Even though they have that right, gaining grandparent visitation can be an uphill battle if either parent objects.
When parents object to grandparent visitation, family judges must respect the parents’ wishes regarding their children’s contact with the grandparents and only order custody or visitation if the visitation is in the children’s best interests. Additionally, grandparents must prove by clear and convincing evidence that there would be actual harm to the grandchildren if visitation is denied. This clear and convincing evidence requirement is a stricter legal standard than what is applied in custody and visitation cases between parents. A grandparent facing this situation may benefit from discussing their case with an experienced local lawyer.
Grandparent Custody in Virginia
In extreme cases, including those involving parental abuse or neglect, grandparents may find it necessary to seek full custody of their grandchildren. To gain custody, grandparents must prove the following:
- The parents are currently unfit to care for their children
- A court previously issued a formal ruling that the parents were unfit
- The parents voluntarily relinquished custody
- The parents abandoned their children
While Virginia law does permit grandparents to file for custody, there is a legal presumption that children’s needs are best met in the care of their parents. A skilled lawyer in Virginia could help grandparents seeking custody to overcome this legal hurdle, protect their rights, and protect their grandchildren from further harm.
A Grandparent Could Lose Their Rights
Under certain circumstances, a grandparent may lose the right to seek custody or visitation with their grandchildren. If the children’s parents have voluntarily given up their parental rights and the children have been adopted by someone else, the grandparents may no longer have a right to have contact with their grandchildren. Grandparents may also lose their right to visitation if a Virginia Child Protective Services agency removes children from their parents due to abuse or neglect and the parents’ rights are involuntarily terminated.
There are some exceptions to these legal principles that may enable grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren even after a termination of parental rights, such as when a stepparent adopts the children. Because these cases can be highly complex, and the factual scenarios very emotional, a Virginia grandparent facing any of these situations should consult with a knowledgeable attorney as early in the case as possible to ensure their rights are considered.
A Skilled Virginia Grandparent’s Rights Attorney Can Help
Whether the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is severed by divorce, parental abuse or neglect, estrangement, or even the death of a parent, that loss can be devastating. Grandparents facing any of these unfortunate circumstances do have some legal recourse to preserve their relationship with their grandkids.
If you are a grandparent seeking visitation or custody of your grandchildren, a Virginia grandparents’ rights lawyer could provide you with compassionate and experienced legal guidance. Our firm recognizes the benefit of a close and loving relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Call us today for assistance.