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Basics of Grandparent Visitation in Maryland

What Are your Custody and Visitation Rights as a Grandparent?

 

Whether by choice or necessity, more grandparents are playing a role in raising their grandchildren. When parents become unfit to care for their children, divorce, or if one or both parents die, it may be necessary for a grandparent to initiate a custody action. If the relationship between the grandparents and the children’s parents has become conflictual, possibly resulting in the parents denying the grandparents any contact with the kids, a request for court-ordered visitation may be appropriate.  This is especially true if there has been a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship.

 

If you are grandparents seeking custody or visitation, our firm’s attorneys can help.  The lawyers at Love, Fleming, Bearsch & Hurff, LLC understand the importance of your role in your grandchildren’s lives and will work to protect your legal rights and preserve your relationship with your grandkids.

 

Grandparent Visitation

 

Under Maryland Code Annotated Family Law Article §9-102, grandparents may request visitation with their grandchildren at any time. However, in the Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, the Court made it clear that parents have a constitutional right to raise their children in whatever manner they choose and determine who their children spend time with and how often. If a parent decides to prohibit contact between their children and the grandparents, that decision will be binding except under limited circumstances.

 

When a grandparent seeks visitation with a grandchild over the parents’ objection, the grandparents must prove to a court that the parents or ‘unfit’ or that exceptional circumstances demonstrate that the child will suffer if they are denied contact with the grandparent. Proving harm to a child under that standard can be challenging and may require testimony from professionals such as psychologists, therapists, and court-appointed social workers.  The assistance of an experienced grandparents’ rights attorney in that type of case is invaluable.

 

 

Grandparent Custody

 

Because of the presumption that parents have a right to raise their children without interference from others, a grandparent seeking custody of a grandchild also has a high burden of proof. Only under extraordinary circumstances, like substance abuse or dependency, mental illness, physical incapacity, neglect, or abuse, can a court deem a parent to be unfit to care for their children.

 

If you as a grandparent believe such circumstances exist, you may file a petition for custody with the court. In considering your request, a judge must prioritize the child or children’s best interests. Some of the factors a court must consider are:

 

  • The sincerity of the parents’ and grandparent’s desire to have custody of the child
  • The effect on the child of a change in custody
  • The child’s age when the grandparent took custody
  • The child, grandparent’s, and parent’s physical and mental health
  • The grandparents’ ability to provide a stable living environment for the child
  • The grandparent’s relationship with the parents

 

It may seem reasonable that a grandparent receives some sort of preference over other parties in a custody case involving their grandchildren because of the family relationship.  However, under Maryland law grandparents have the same legal standing to seek custody of a child as any other person, such as an aunt, cousin, or even an unrelated third party. Our lawyers can assess your grandparent custody case and determine whether, based on all of the statutory factors, custody to you is a legally viable option.

 

The Legal Process for Seeking Custody or Visitation

 

Grandparents requesting custody of or visitation with their grandchildren must file a ‘petition’ with the court. The petition must state why it would be in the children’s best interest to be in the care of, or spend time with, you as the grandparent. The court may appoint a ‘Best Interest’ attorney to be the children’s legal advocate. This attorney will assess the overall living environment for your grandchildren, any possible benefit to them of having a relationship with you, and whether severing the grandparent-grandchild relationship would be detrimental to their well-being.

 

In making this assessment, the Best Interest attorney may speak with your grandchildren’s therapist if they are in counseling, teachers, and anyone else who may have relevant information about your grandchildren’s overall well-being.  Depending on the age and maturity of your grandkids, the attorney may also speak with them to understand how they feel about their relationship with you and what they would like to happen with that relationship in the future.  The attorney can advise the court what your grandchildren’s wishes are regarding custody and visitation and can also offer their own opinion regarding what would be in your grandchildren’s best interests.

 

In any grandparent custody or visitation case, the grandparents have the ‘burden of proof’ to demonstrate their legal right to court-ordered time with their grandchildren. This means that you have the obligation to present sufficient evidence to the Judge hearing your case to satisfy the legal requirements for custody or visitation.  The Judge must consider your grandchildren’s overall best interests when making any decision about them.  One of our firm’s experienced grandparents’ rights lawyers understands how to gather the necessary evidence to meet this burden of proof and represent you in all court proceedings.

 

The Benefits of a Grandparents’ Rights Attorney

 

Because of the constitutional presumption that fit parents may decide who has contact with their children, grandparents may face an uphill battle when they seek custody or visitation with their grandchildren. However, there are certainly circumstances when it is in a grandchild’s best interest to have an ongoing relationship with their grandparents. Often, the best solution to this type of case is to attempt to heal the relationship between you and your grandchildren’s parents so that all parties may stay involved in the children’s lives in a healthy and meaningful way.  Our firm’s lawyers can connect you with mental health professionals and mediators who are knowledgeable in family relationships and who may be able to assist you in settling the custody or visitation dispute civilly and without the need to go to court.

 

If you are a grandparent concerned about the care your grandchildren are receiving from their parents or you have been denied contact with them, one of our team’s experienced attorneys can assist you. A Love, Fleming, Bearsch & Hurff grandparents’ rights lawyer understands the importance of your role in your grandchildren’s lives and will work to protect that relationship. Whether it be by filing a custody or visitation petition on your behalf, working with the children’s Best Interest attorney, representing you in court, or referring you to the appropriate counselor or mediator for settlement discussions, our attorneys will represent you at every stage of the process.  Call our firm today for a consultation. We are fully operational during this pandemic and can meet with you by telephone, virtually, or in-person using all appropriate safety protocols.

 

 

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