Family dynamics are complicated. In certain cases, a parent might limit or entirely deny visits between their child and their child’s grandparents. When this sort of situation occurs, a grandparent may wonder whether they have any legal right to time with their grandchild, and reasonably so. They may also wonder whether they may seek custody over their grandchild if their current living situation is unsafe. Grandparents’ rights in the state of Florida are limited, but there are some circumstances in which grandparents can use the law to help them see their grandchildren.
Can a Grandparent Seek Visitation Through the Courts?
Unfortunately, the circumstances in which grandparents can legally seek visitation with their grandchildren are quite limited in the state of Florida. Florida statute 752.011 indicates that grandparents can seek visitation through the courts if:
- Both of their grandchild’s parents have died, are missing, or if they’re in a comatose state for a long period of time
- One parent has died, is missing, or is comatose and the other parent has a felony conviction or has been convicted of a violent crime that could pose a threat to the child’s welfare
If one parent is not a felon and is around to care for the child, the grandparents have no legal right to any amount of visitation. Legal visitation appears to be reserved for extreme cases, or cases involving the grandchild’s welfare.
What Steps Can Grandparents Take to Seek Visitation?
If a family meets the very limited circumstances that are necessary for a grandparent to be able to seek visitation through the courts, the steps to do so include:
- An initial hearing for the court to decide whether the child’s parents are unfit or if there is a significant risk of harm to the child (if it is determined the child is safe, the grandparents may end up responsible for all the legal fees)
- If it is determined that the child’s parents are unfit or unable to care for them, the courts will attempt to settle the case through mediation. In the meantime, a court-appointed guardian may be assigned to care for the child while the court determines if the grandparents should do so instead
- If mediation is unsuccessful, another hearing will be held, and the court will only formally grant visitation to the grandparents if the following requirements are met in addition to parental unfitness:
- Visitation with the grandparents is in the best interests of the grandchild
- Visitation will not cause harm or significant changes to the relationship between the parents and their child
Grandparents may only file for visitation through the courts one time during a 2-year period, and if visitation is granted, it can be revoked by the court if or when the parents become able to care for their child again.
Can a Grandparent Seek Long-Term Custody if Their Grandchild is Unsafe?
Although court-enforced visitation is only granted to grandparents when their grandchild’s parents are unfit or unavailable, that visitation is likely to be revoked when the parents change or return. However, grandparents may be able to sue for a more permanent form of custody if they believe that would be in the best interest of their grandchild. Certain criteria must be established for grandparents to be granted legal guardianship of their grandchild through the courts, and those criteria include:
- The grandparents’ standing: For grandparents to be granted custody over their grandchildren, they must prove to the court that they have the right to do so to begin with. Grandparents can prove their standing to the courts by showing they have been responsible for the grandchild’s care for a significant amount of time, an argument that can be strengthened if the parents have not provided financial help or have been capable of caring for the child and have chosen not to. A grandparent’s standing can also be proven if they can show the court that the child’s parents are unfit to care for them. This can be proven through the parent’s behaviors, such as drug use, being mentally unfit, violence, or sexual abuse.
- Grandparental custody is best for the child: For the child to be placed in the grandparents’ custody, the court needs to determine whether that placement would be the best for the child. The court considers the following factors when making that decision:
- Whether the grandparents are willing to allow the child to remain in contact with the parents
- Whether the grandparents are physically and mentally capable to meet the child’s daily care needs
- Whether the emotional relationship between the grandparents and their grandchild is positive
- How the change will affect the child
- How stable and permanent the grandparents’ living situation is
- The overall mental, physical, and moral health of the grandparents
- The preferences of the child, within reason
- Whether the grandparents have a history of child abuse or other violent acts
- How the decision will affect the child’s schooling
If the court concludes that the child will be in good care with the grandparents and that granting them custody over the child is the best decision, the grandparents will be granted custody. In certain cases, grandparents are asked to share custody with the parents, or to ensure that the parents are still able to visit with the child in question.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you believe your grandchild is being kept from you intentionally or that they would be cared for best in your custody, contact Jason K.S. Porter, P.A. Attorneys at Law today. Highly qualified and empathetic legal care is essential when the welfare of a child is in question, and our experienced legal team is ready to hear your case. Contact us today at (904) 701-0591 or via our contact page.