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Grandparents’ Rights in Orlando: Understanding Custody and Visitation

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In What Situations Could Grandparents Be Denied Visitation with Grandchildren?

Grandparents play an essential role in the lives of their grandchildren. Losing access and visitation can be an emotional blow to both the grandparent and the child and have a significant impact on their lives. Visitation with a grandchild may be denied to grandparents in various situations, such as divorce or the death of one of the parents. In some cases, one or both of the child’s parents may have real or imagined objections to something the grandparent has allegedly done, such as undermining parental authority or ignoring rules set down for the child. A parent may disagree with a grandparent’s views, lifestyle, or other choices.

Do Parents Have a Legal Right to Deny Visitation to Grandparents?

Parents have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children under the law. This includes the right to decide who may or may not visit with them. Parents who wish to deny visitation to a grandparent have a legal right to do so in most cases. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that absent parental abuse, any state law that confers rights to a grandparent or other nonparent over the objection of a child’s parent, is a violation of that parent’s constitutional rights.

What Rights to Custody and Visitation Do Grandparents Have in Florida?

Under the Florida Statutes § 39.509 Grandparents rights, paternal and maternal grandparents and step-grandparents are entitled to reasonable visitation with a grandchild who has been removed from the physical custody of a parent, unless visitation with the grandparent is not in the best interests of the child, as determined by the court. A grandparent may visit with such a grandchild in the grandparent’s home unless there is a compelling reason to deny that option. Grandparents entitled to visitation under these circumstances will not be restricted from appropriate displays of affection or from giving cards, letters, or gifts to the child from the grandparent or other family members.

When May Grandparents Petition the Court for Visitation with a Grandchild in Florida?

State law permits grandparents to petition the court for visitation with a minor child in certain situations under the Florida Statutes § 752.011. A petition for visitation may be filed if:

  • The child’s parents have died, are missing, or are in a persistent vegetative state; or
  • One of the child’s parents is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state, and the other parent has been convicted of a felony or another offense that demonstrates behavior that poses a threat to the health or welfare of the child.

Once the petition for grandparent visitation is filed, a preliminary hearing is held to determine if the petitioner (grandparent) has shown sufficient evidence of parental unfitness or significant harm to the child. If the court finds sufficient evidence, it may appoint a guardian ad litem and refer the matter to family mediation. If the issue of grandparent visitation is not successfully resolved in mediation, the court will conduct a hearing. If the court finds that a parent is unfit or there is significant harm to the child, that visitation is in the child’s best interests, and that it will not materially harm the child’s relationship with the parent, it may award visitation to the grandparent.

Florida law on grandparents’ visitation rights was amended by House Bill (HB) 1119 – Grandparent Visitation Rights to include another situation in which grandparents may petition the court for reasonable visitation with a grandchild. A presumption is created by the bill that courts may award reasonable visitation to grandparents if one parent has been found criminally liable for the death of the other parent or civilly liable for an intentional tort that caused the other parent’s death. Assault and battery are examples of intentional torts that can result in death. This presumption only applies to the parents of the grandchild’s deceased parent.

What Factors Does the Court Consider in Determining the Best Interests of the Child?

In assessing a child’s best interests concerning grandparent visitation, the court considers all factors that could affect the child’s mental and emotional well-being, including:

  • Emotional ties between the child and the grandparent
  • Length and quality of the relationship between the grandparent and the child
  • The extent to which the grandparent provided care and support for the child on a regular basis
  • Reasons cited by the parent for ending visitation
  • Whether disruption of support and stability from the grandparent caused mental or emotional harm to the child
  • Current physical, mental, and emotional health of both the grandparent and the child
  • Recommendations of the guardian ad litem if one was appointed
  • Preference of the child, if old enough to express one
  • The deceased parent’s testamentary statement regarding visitation with the grandparent
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant

Do You Need a Lawyer for a Grandparent Rights Matter?

Unless it is permitted by the child’s parents, gaining visitation with a minor grandchild can be challenging. Your best chance of succeeding is to have an experienced family law attorney by your side. At The Law Office of Erin Morse, we focus our practice exclusively on family law and estate planning matters and have an in-depth knowledge of Florida law concerning grandparents’ rights. Call us at (407) 743-6059 for the skilled legal representation you need.

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