Family dynamics in the United States have undergone a dramatic shift in the last half century, with grandparents now playing a vital role in the upbringing of many children. Even in more traditional nuclear families, grandparents are a source of love and support for children. In any event, grandparents want to have a relationship with their grandchildren. But life doesn’t always make that easy, which is why you may need a skilled attorney to fight for your grandparents’ rights.
Separation, divorce, and fights between parents certainly affect children caught in the middle. The grandparents are often forgotten in this conflict. Like many states, Texas recognizes the interests that grandparents have, and affords them custody and visitation rights in certain circumstances. If your family is undergoing a change that affects your grandchildren, or you are concerned about their well-being, Youngberg Law Firm can explain what legal options you may have.
Overview Of Grandparents’ Rights In Texas
Grandparents who enjoy a strong relationship with their grandchildren may suddenly find that bond at risk due to separation, divorce, or other conflict between the parents. Any sort of disturbance in the family dynamic can threaten to cut out grandparents and prevent them from seeing or spending time with their grandchildren.
When parents split up, the child may go to live with one parent for all or most of the time. Or that parent may simply have visitation rights, while the other parent enjoys primary custody. Either way, the grandparent may believe that a parent exercising custody or visitation is putting the child at risk for one reason or another.
Grandparents who believe they have been unfairly excluded from seeing their grandchildren, or that a particular custody or visitation arrangement is detrimental to the child, want to know what options they have under the law. But whereas parents in a custody dispute can automatically go to court to assert their rights, grandparents cannot. Texas family law statutes only allow grandparents to petition the court in certain limited circumstances.
Visitation Time For Grandparents
In some cases, grandparents have the right to ask a judge to grant them visitation rights (also referred to as access) with their grandchildren. There is no guarantee that a court will allow the visitation, even if you meet the criteria outlined in the statute. That’s because parents are generally presumed to be in the best position to make decisions about who can visit their children. But the statute does allow grandparents to petition the court, provided one of the following conditions applies:
- The parents are divorced or were never married
- The children have been subjected to parental abuse or neglect
- A parent has died, been found incompetent, or has been incarcerated
- A parent has had their parental rights legally terminated
- The children have lived with a grandparent for at least six months and the grandparent has provided significant care, custody and control over the child
Texas courts generally defer to the wisdom of parents when it comes to raising their children. That means simply disagreeing with how a child is brought up is not sufficient grounds for grandparents to intervene. However, if you feel one of the above circumstances applies to you, take action to secure your visitation rights.
There’s one important limitation to the grandparents’ rights to seek visitation, and that is where the child has either been adopted, or is the subject of a pending adoption action, by someone other than a stepparent.
Grandparents’ Rights To Custody
Custody – which is known as conservatorship in Texas – could be an option for a grandparent. Again, the presumption is that the child’s parents should have custody, and this is not an easy presumption to overcome. The grandparents must show that it is in the child’s best interests not to remain in the custody of his or her parents. Except for divorce, any of the above scenarios which might justify visitation rights could serve as a basis for seeking full custody.
Grandparents also have to overcome a different set of challenges to show that they are best suited to take care of the children. The first have to show that they have a right to sue for custody of the child. Then once that has cleared that hurdle, they next need to overcome the presumption in favor of the child’s parents and then they are still subject to the court’s best interests of the child standard. That initial standing issue (right to sue) has recently been made easier by the Texas Supreme Court, but it is still a significant challenge in any grandparent’s rights case.
How To Strengthen Your Case
Remember, the law only allows grandparents to ask a court for visitation or custody in certain situations; there’s no guarantee either will be awarded to you. But there are a few factors the court will look at, all of which should be considered as you make your case:
- The past contact and relationship between the grandparents and grandchildren
- The physical and financial ability of the grandparents to care for the grandchildren
- Evidence of neglect or inability of the child’s parents to care for the child
- Evidence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by the parents
- Evidence of a parent’s alcohol or drug abuse
- The child’s preferences, in cases where the child is twelve years or older
- Whether the child has lived with the grandparents at any point prior to formalizing visitation or custody
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all factors a court will consider. However, if you are pursuing custody or visitation as a grandparent, they should be evaluated with the assistance of a skilled Texas family law attorney.
Contact A Denton County Grandparents’ Rights Attorney
Every child custody and visitation case is different and has to be judged on its individual merits. This is no less true when it comes to cases involving grandparents. If you’re a grandparent who is concerned about your grandchild, you need the trusted experience of Youngberg Law Firm. Give us a call today to schedule your confidential consultation.