Written by attorney Mary Elizabeth Milek

Grandparent Visitation in Mississippi

The Mississippi Legislature passed the Grandparent Visitation Rights Act of 1983, to address the desires of grandparents to be allowed visitation with their grandchildren. It should be noted that the grandparents do not have a right to visit their grandchildren that is as comprehensive as the rights of a natural parent. The natural parents are superior to all other persons. Under the common law, there is no right at all to grandparent visitation; therefore, the grandparents must strictly comply with the dictates of the statutes, to establish such visitation. There is no absolute right to grandparent visitation. In these proceedings, the Mississippi Supreme Court has stressed that the “best interest of the child" should dictate the actions of the Chancery Court. In Martin v. Coop, 693 So. 2d 912 (Miss. 1997), the Mississippi Supreme Court set forth the following factors that should be considered by the Chancery Court, in determining grandparent visitation and no one factor “should be weighed more heavily than the others". 1. The amount of disruption that extensive visitation will have on the child's life. This includes disruption of school activities, summer activities, as well as any disruption that might take place between the natural parent and the child as a result of the child being away from home for extensive lengths of time. 2. The suitability of the grandparents' home with respect to the amount of supervision received by the child. 3. The age of the child. 4. The age, and physical and mental health of the grandparents. 5. The emotional ties between the grandparents and the grandchild. 6. The moral fitness of the grandparents. 7. The distance of the grandparents' home from the child's home. 8. Any undermining of the parent's general discipline of the child. 9. Employment of the grandparents and the responsibilities associated with that employment. 10. The willingness of the grandparents to accept that the rearing of the child is the responsibility of the parent, and that the parent's manner of child rearing is not to be interfered with by the grandparentAs stated before, none of these factors should receive more weight in the chancellor's analysis than any other. These factors are further not all-inclusive. The chancellor should weigh all circumstances and factors he feels to be appropriate. The following is from the Mississippi Code: § 93-16-1. Jurisdiction of court to grant grandparents visitation rights with minor child. Any court of this state which is competent to decide child custody matters shall have jurisdiction to grant visitation rights with a minor child or children to the grandparents of such minor child or children as provided in this chapter. § 93-16-3. Who may petition for visitation rights; when; court in which to file petition. (1) Whenever a court of this state enters a decree or order awarding custody of a minor child to one (1) of the parents of the child or terminating the parental rights of one (1) of the parents of a minor child, or whenever one (1) of the parents of a minor child dies, either parent of the child's parents who was not awarded custody or whose parental rights have been terminated or who has died may petition the court in which the decree or order was rendered or, in the case of the death of a parent, petition the chancery court in the county in which the child resides, and seek visitation rights with such child. (2) Any grandparent who is not authorized to petition for visitation rights pursuant to subsection (1) of this section may petition the chancery court and seek visitation rights with his or her grandchild, and the court may grant visitation rights to the grandparent, provided the court finds: (a) That the grandparent of the child had established a viable relationship with the child and the parent or custodian of the child unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights with the child; and (b) That visitation rights of the grandparent with the child would be in the best interests of the child. (3) For purposes of subsection (3) of this section, the term "viable relationship" means a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child or the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year. (4) Any petition for visitation rights under subsection (2) of this section shall be filed in the county where an order of custody as to such child has previously been entered. If no such custody order has been entered, then the grandparents' petition shall be filed in the county where the child resides or may be found. The court shall on motion of the parent or parents direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney's fees to the parent or parents in advance and prior to any hearing, except in cases in which the court finds that no financial hardship will be imposed upon the parents. The court may also direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney's fees to the parent or parents of the child and court costs regardless of the outcome of the petition.

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