A divorce’s far-reaching consequences often extend beyond the immediate family. A child’s family ties with relatives can be severed if the custodial parent chooses to move away, especially after a divorce. This means that as a grandparent, you’re often left to fend for yourself when it comes to visitation rights concerning your grandchildren. If you’re currently denied access to your grandchildren, you’re not alone. Problems with visitation rights and grandchildren often come up if your child’s divorce was particularly unpleasant and your child’s ex-spouse is the one who ends up with custody. Thankfully, there are some options that you may find helpful.

The right to petition

Depending on what state you're in, it’s best to have grandparent visitation rights clearly set out in the divorce settlement. However, if those rights aren’t included in the divorce decree, then you can apply to the court for visitation rights under certain limited circumstances. The court will then evaluate if it’s in the child’s best interests to allow this. Currently, some US states have statutes that allow grandparents the right to petition for visitation in the case of divorce or a parent’s death.

Fit parents have primary say

It may be difficult to overcome the custodial parent’s denial of visitation rights. As long as the parent is fit to take care of the child, the court can’t order visitation rights to be extended. (The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that a Washington law overstepped its authority by allowing a judge to order a mother to allow visitation rights for grandparents in Troxel v. Granville.) Therefore, as long as your grandchild’s custodial parent is doing their basic parenting job adequately you’ll have to get along with them if you want to visit your grandchild. Here are some alternative measures you can try before getting a lawyer:

  • Give the family space: Allow the family time to settle through the transition.
  • Communicate openly: Be open about wanting to visit the grandchildren and find out what the problem is.
  • Don’t increase hostility: The custodial parent often fears that you’ll badmouth them to the children. Set ground rules for visits. Even if there is hostility between you and the parent, don’t involve the kids.
  • Try a neutral third-party mediator if communicating with the parent isn’t going well.

As always, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney with experience in third party visitation rights to see where you stand