Courts are authorized to grant Grandparent Visitation In California in certain situations. The basic requirements and procedures are outlined here, but before seeking court intervention, I recommend that the grandparents consider out of court options to resolve the matter. Attending a mediation session with a third party neutral allows you and your grandchild’s parents an opportunity to discuss your issues and concerns and may help you to reach a visitation agreement that everyone feels comfortable with. Your local court’s self-help center should be able to advise you of mediators in your area that may be able to assist you. And keep in mind, even if you do seek a judge’s order, the court will often order you to attend mediation first anyway.
If you, the grandparent, decide to obtain a visitation order through the courts, here are some things you should know. Generally, grandparents may not apply for visitation rights when the grandchild’s parents are married. There are a few exceptions, though:
- The parents are living separately and apart;
- One of the parents has been absent for at least a month and his or her whereabouts are unknown;
- One of the parents joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation;
- The grandchild does not reside with either of his or her parents;
- The grandchild has been adopted by a step-parent; or
- One of the parents is incarcerated or institutionalized involuntarily.
See Cal. Fam. Code § 3104(b).
Also, in order for a court to grant you grandparent visitation, the court must: (1) determine that there is a preexisting relationship between you and your grandchild that has “engendered a bond” such that visitation is in your grandchild’s best interest; and (2) balance your grandchild’s best interest in visiting with you and the parents’ rights to make decisions about your grandchild. See Cal. Fam. Code § 3104(a).
To apply for an order granting visitation with a grandchild, a grandparent may file a petition with the court. The first thing you need to do is determine if there is already a family law case open between the parents, such as a divorce, child support, or parentage case. If so, you may file your petition to the court under the existing case. If not, it is a bit more difficult to determine how to file your petition. As of now, California has not developed official forms just for this purpose. As a result, a number of courts have created local forms to request grandparent visitation. You should check with your local court’s self-help center to find out if they have created forms that you may use. You also may want to consider hiring an attorney to ensure you prepare and file the correct paperwork.
Once you have an open case, you need to complete the Request for Order (Form FL-300). This form will allow you to tell the judge what type and frequency of visitation you are requesting with your grandchild, and to explain the importance of your relationship with your grandchild. Remember that the judge needs to know why it is in your grandchild’s best interest to have visitation with you, so be sure to detail the relationship and bond you have with your grandchild. The court’s self-help center can make sure you’ve filled out your forms properly and advise you as to what you need to do file them, get a court date, serve copies of the forms on the grandchild’s parents, etc.
If both parents are opposed to granting you visitation, the judge will review the case with the presumption that you should not be allowed visitation. The burden will then be on you to prove why the visitation is in the best interest of your grandchild. This is a more complicated situation and if this is the case, you should likely consult with an attorney.