Separating and divorcing parents must always address issues regarding the custody and visitation of their minor children. And sometimes this also includes the grandparents. California law also gives grandparents the right to spend time with their grandkids under certain circumstances. As the state’s Third District Court of Appeals recently explained, courts considering a request for grandparent visitation rights focus on the grandchild’s best interests, among other factors.
Father and Mother were married when Mother gave birth to Daughter in 2004. Father’s parents moved from Sacramento to a residence three blocks from the family’s home in Roseville a year later, and Grandfather became the child’s primary caregiver. When Father and Mother separated and then divorced four years later, the grandparents watched Daughter as much as 25 days per month.
Husband’s relationship with his parents started to sour, however, after Daughter and he moved in with the grandparents. They said Father’s mood changed when he started taking certain medication. Father and Daughter eventually moved out of the house, supposedly after the grandparents asked him to leave. Father then told his parents that they would never see the child again. Their time with Daughter decreased over the following months, and the grandparents eventually asked a court to award them visitation time.
Both Father and Mother opposed the petition. Mother said that she wanted to respect Father’s wishes and that she was unhappy that the grandparents had eventually tried to see Daughter without her parents’ permission. The trial court nevertheless sided with the grandparents. It said the case was a “tragic” one, caused by Husband’s “bitterness at having been asked to depart the grandparents’ residence.”
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Third District explained that the California Family Code gives grandparents visitation rights in some circumstances. Section 3104 governs situations in which the parents are not married. It allows a court to order grandparent visitation if it finds that the grandparents have a pre-existing relationship with the child and that the visitation is in the child’s best interests. It also requires the court to balance those interests against the parents’ right to exercise parental authority.
The Court said the law “reflects a legitimate state interest in preserving an already existing grandparent-grandchild relationship that is threatened but in the best interest of the grandchild to safeguard.” That was exactly the case in this matter, according to the Court. “[T]he grandparent visitation order permissibly safeguards a strong bond between Riley and her paternal grandparents that [Husband] and [Wife] fostered over the years and Riley’s best interest in preserving her relationship with [the grandparents] after her parents’ relationship ended in divorce.”
Visitation is just one of the issues that can come up in California divorce and child custody cases. These issues typically boil down to the question of what’s in the child’s best interest. Fortunately, they can usually be resolved without the stress and animosity that often come with full-blown litigation in court. Mediation, collaborative divorce, and other alternatives give former spouses and parents an opportunity to reach solutions with efficiency and mutual respect.
With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches a divorce case as a problem to be solved collaboratively, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.
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