In most cases, grandparents play a loving and supportive role in the lives of their grandchildren. Few would deny that frequent contact with a loving grandparent can do wonders for a child. Ideally, grandparents can see their grandchildren consistently without any need for court involvement. However, in reality, grandparents occasionally run into issues regarding contact with their grandchildren when the parents encounter marital difficulties. Grandparents can also experience difficulties seeing their grandchildren for other reasons as well.
Under certain circumstances, grandparents can petition the court for formal visitation rights with their grandchild in Colorado. In this post, we will identify and discuss the various grounds on which a grandparent can petition the court for visitation. We will then discuss the standards by which these petitions are evaluated and determined.
Grounds For Seeking Visitation Rights
When parents remain married, there is no ground for a grandparent to seek court-ordered visitation rights. In other words, grandparents only gain legal standing to seek visitation rights if there is a breakdown in the original domestic situation of their grandchildren. Let’s look at the 4 grounds which exist for seeking court-ordered visitation:
(1) the parents of the grandchildren divorce, separate, or obtain an annulment of the marriage
(2) a paternity suit is brought
(3) the grandchildren are placed in the custody of someone other than the parents, such as a new legal guardian (this does not include a formal adoption)
(4) the parent who is the son or daughter of the grandparent dies
As mentioned, courts in Colorado generally presume that grandparents will ordinarily have regular contact with grandchildren when the family is functioning and intact. As you can see, these grounds for seeking visitation only turn up when there is a grave departure from normal circumstances. Under these unusual circumstances, courts recognize that grandparents have a need to obtain a formal visitation schedule.
The Best Interests Of The Child Standard In Grandparent Visitation Cases
When a grandparent petitions for formal visitation with a grandchild, that grandparent has to complete several steps. In addition to the motion for visitation, the grandparent has to serve a copy of that motion on the individual who currently has legal custody of the grandchild. The grandparent also has to cite specific reasons as to why continued visitation is in the best interests of the child.
When evaluating a grandparent’s petition for visitation, Colorado courts utilize the “best interests of the child” standard, just as they do in virtually all other child related determinations. However, they also use a presumption which holds that parents typically act in the best interests of their children. In a way, this presumption is just an extension or outgrowth of the best interests of the child standard. So, if a parent raises an objection to a grandparent’s petition for visitation, the court will usually defer to the decision of the parent. However, a grandparent can overcome this presumption by conclusively showing why the parent’s objection is not in the best interests of the child. Furthermore, the grandparent will also need to demonstrate that the proposed visitation schedule doesn’t conflict with the child’s best interests.
Grandparents should be advised that Colorado courts strongly prefer to keep the immediate domestic situation of children as stress free as possible. Courts will use this preference to deny visitation requests if there is any hint that granting visitation would compromise the tranquility of the child’s home environment. As one example, a Colorado judge denied visitation to one grandparent because evidence turned up that the grandparent was criticizing the father during visitation, and this criticism created stress for the child.