Grandparents often develop natural affinity with their grandchildren, even taking on vital duties in the grandchild’s life. This relationship may, however, undergo a change when one parent passes away, or when the grandchild’s parents obtain a divorce.
In some cases, the father or mother who is awarded the child’s custody may try to curtail or even entirely deny any visit by the parents of their former spouse or even their own parents.
This loss of bonding can be overwhelming for the grandparents, and even have adverse repercussions on the grandchild. In such a scenario, grandparents may still have some legal options that they can consider to help ensure that they may still be able visit their grandchildren regularly, and continue to have a nurturing influence in their lives.
As per Ohio law, the courts can award the grandparents visitation rights during and after a domestic relations proceeding. This is possible if the grandparent is interested in the welfare of the child and the court believes that visitation would be in the best interests of the child.
The court can also award such visitation rights to a grandparent, if the father or mother is deceased, or the mother of the child was unwed at the time of the child’s birth. But before visitation rights are awarded to the grandparents by an Ohio court, it must first assess various factors that are listed in the statute.
Granting of Grandparent Visitation
Historically, grandparents did not have any legal rights of access to their grandchildren. It was parents who had the entire authority to allow or deny them the opportunity of visitation. Ohio has since granted grandparents visitation rights and companionship of their grandchildren by statute under the following situations:
- When married parents of the grandchild legally separate or terminate their marriage.
- When a parent dies.
- When the mother is unwed at the time of the child’s birth.
In these scenarios, the court may award visitation rights to the grandparent, if it believes it is in the child’s best interest.
When married parents separate or end marriage
In a proceeding for annulment, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, divorce or child custody, a court can grant the grandparents reasonable visitation rights if it finds that the grandparents are interested in the child’s welfare, and visitation would be in the child’s best interest. Grandparents can file a motion while the legal proceeding is pending, or after the court issues a decree or final order.
When a parent is deceased
In the event of a parent’s death, the deceased’s parents can file a request for visitation rights. The grandparent must file this in the court of common pleas in the county where the grandchild resides. In this case, the court will consider various factors to determine the best way forward, and may order reasonable visitation rights to the grandparent, if it is determined to be in the child’s best interests.
When the mother of child is unmarried
If at the time of the child’s birth, if the mother was unmarried, then visitation rights may be granted to the maternal grandparents. The court may also grant visitation rights to the paternal grandparents, if the child’s father acknowledges paternity and such acknowledgement is final, or if he is found to be the child’s father in a parentage action. For visitation rights, the maternal and/or paternal grandparents should file a request.
As per the statutory law, the courts also have the authority to grant visitation when the child is born to an unwed mother, even if the parents of the child subsequently get married and establish the child’s paternity. However, Ohio appellate courts have arrived at varying conclusions about this authority. In some cases, the courts have determined this authority to be unconstitutional.
Visitation in Case of Dependent, Neglected, or Abused Child
In a scenario where a child is alleged to be dependent, neglected or abused, or a juvenile court has adjudicated to this effect, the Ohio Revised Code does not provide for visitation rights of the grandparents.
However, according to a rule adopted by the Department of Job and Family Services, a Private Child Placing Agency (PCPA) or a Public Children Services Agency (PCSA) is required to organize visitation in specific situations. For instance, if the child is in temporary custody, the PCPA or PCSA is required to make an arrangement for the child’s family members to have an opportunity to communicate with or visit the child, if this is in the best interest of the child.
However, this rule is silent about visitation of grandparents in circumstances where the child’s permanent custody is granted to the PCPA or PCSA, or the legal custody of the child is given to an individual who is not the child’s parent, or if the child has been placed in protective supervision.
In such cases of abuse, neglect, or dependency, the courts may not grant the visitation rights of the grandparents because the Ohio Supreme Court has held that to allow visitation rights to the grandparents, the rights must be provided for in the statute.
After the Adoption of a Child
In the event that a child is adopted, the visitation rights of the grandparents are determined according to the circumstances surrounding the situation. As per Ohio law, if the child’s parent is deceased, the adoption itself does not restrict or curtail the grandparent’s visitation rights or reasonable companionship. This holds true even if the child is adopted by a step-parent.
In a situation where the child’s parents are separated or divorced or the child is born to an unwed mother, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that a final adoption decree terminating the legal relationship between the one who is adopted and his or her relatives also has the effect of terminating any third party visitation rights with regard to adoption. This is irrespective of whether a step-parent, relative, or a stranger has adopted the child.
The law in Ohio does not terminate a relationship between the child and the parent’s family whose status is not changed by an adoption by a step-parent. If the father or mother retains parental rights following a step-parent adoption, in such case the grandparents would be entitled to seek visitation rights.
Relevant Factors Considered by a Court for Visitation
The Ohio court will consider all key factors, including those specified in the statute, before issuing an order with regard to visitation rights of grandparents. These may include:
- Any concerns and demands of the child’s parents
- The nature of prior interaction or interrelationship between the child, parent and relatives
- Location where the grandparent resides, and how far it is from the child’s residence
- Time availability of the grandchild and the parents
- The age of the child
- The child’s adjustment in the community, school, and home
- The personal wish of the child, if he or she has been interviewed by the court in chambers
- The health and safety concerns of the child
- The child’s availability to spend time with his or her siblings
- The physical and mental health of all parties concerned
- Whether the grandparent seeking visitation has been previously convicted or has pleaded guilty to any criminal offense involving child abuse or neglect.
If the motion for grandparents’ visitation rights is denied by the court, they may file a request for findings of fact and conclusion of law. In such case, the court will provide a written statement describing the findings of fact and conclusion of law.
Contempt Proceeding for Enforcement
Anybody who has been granted visitation rights to the child, or is subject to a visitation order has the right to initiate an action for contempt for the failure of another person to comply with the order. A fine or imprisonment or both may be imposed on an individual whom the court finds guilty of contempt. The individual may also be required to pay all the court costs, including the lawyer’s fee of the other party if the contempt is willful. The court may also award compensatory visitation, if it finds it to be in the child’s best interest.
How can a Grandparent File for Custody?
If the grandparent wishes to have custody of the child, they can file a motion or complaint for custody. However, unless it is proved that both parents are unsuitable or unfit, the court is unlikely to grant custody of the child to the grandparents. If the grandparent proves to the court that the parents of the child are unsuitable or unfit, they will also be required to prove that it is in the best interest of the child that their custody be given to the grandparent.
Ohio law provides for grandparents to seek both visitation rights and custody of their grandchildren. However, pursuing such complex cases can be emotionally draining for the grandparent. Therefore, it is prudent for grandparents to seek the professional expertise of a fantastic and proven attorney and there is no one better in this arena than Slater & Zurz.
A grandparent custody case may also involve the local county’s Children’s Services in some situations. The attorney’s legal advice and assistance can play a vital role while dealing with the supervisor and caseworker from the Children’s Services. The grandparent should also be prepared to act in a timely manner in order to proceed legally to obtain custody of their grandchild.
Tips for Grandparents before Taking Legal Action
As a grandparent, you should consider all possibilities before you decide to exercise your right as a grandparent and approach the court. For instance, what will be the repercussions of your decision on your relationship with your own son or daughter? Are you prepared to face them? If custody is granted, you will also be responsible financially, emotionally, and physically for the care and maintenance of your grandchild. Are you prepared to accept this responsibility? Can you keep up with them? Do you understand the vast culture and age differences in this situation?
You may be required to take potentially harsh measures to win your case. Are you ready for this? For instance, you may be called to testify against your own son or daughter, in order to prove their unsuitability as a parent. This could include sensitive issues related to your child, such as drug addiction, mental illness, or physical abuse. In cases of child abuse or neglect, your own child may be legally prosecuted before the grandchild’s custody is granted to you. You need to consider these possibilities before petitioning the court.
As a grandparent, if you still choose to proceed with a petition or motion for visitation, you may be required to provide specific details of your situation. This may include:
- Any concerns you may have regarding the care and safety of the child.
- The specific role you have played in the grandchild’s life, specifically with regard to his or her care.
- Your personal bonding with your grandchild in comparison to the relationship of the parents with their own child.
- Your strengths and weaknesses as a grandparent and how those stand against your own son or daughter’s strengths and weaknesses in caring for the child.
- The length you are prepared to go in order to adequately care for your grandchild.
Your first step should be to seek the legal counsel of a fantastic and diligent Ohio attorney. He or she would be able to clarify potential issues based on your grandparent rights in Ohio, and help you clearly understand your choices in order to legally achieve visitation rights or custody of your grandchild.
Support is Vital for Grandparents with Child Custody
Research studies indicate that grandparents who thrive with added responsibilities are those who have a strong support system. Therefore, be sure to proactively seek external support during this process. This includes individuals with whom you can freely share and seek advice.
They can serve as a sounding board, and help you come to terms with your own thoughts and feelings on your delicate circumstances. On the other hand, if you seek to persevere all alone, denial of your own thoughts and feelings may eventually affect and negatively impact your connection with your grandchildren.
It is a judicious idea to approach local support groups for grandparents who are raising grandchildren. Even phone support or online groups can prove to be useful in this journey. In many cases, it could be the start of new friendships with others who might be in a similar situation. Sharing your experience and seeking suggestions from others will not only help you emotionally, it can also give you the required clarity to deal with your unique situation more effectively.
You may also reach out to the community to find the best childcare help. You may be surprised to find support right within your church, religious organization, synagogue, or even a local club or library.
Where is the nearest soccer league and Little League baseball diamonds? This is just some of the aspects you need to be thinking about.
You may consider visiting your local library during story time hours, engage with other parents in the neighborhood park, or spread the word among your neighbors if you are looking for a reliable young babysitter. You might even consider swapping baby-sitting duties with other parents in your community.
It is also important for you to reach out to other parents. Do not let a potential generation gap stop you from doing this, as the common theme of raising children, and the challenges and euphoria associated with it can serve as solid bond across generations. This will help you forge strong and supportive friendships within your community, also offering your grandchild the companionship he or she will require within the area that you live.
Encourage Positive Contact with the Parents
In some cases, it may not be possible for your grandchild to sustain their relationship with their parent. It may even be detrimental to their welfare.
However, these circumstances are rare. In all other situations, you should encourage your grandchild to maintain a positive relationship with their parent, particularly if there is a possibility for them to live together again. Contact with parents may include in-person meetings, phone calls, emails, contact through letters and cards, and online voice and video chats.
Ensure Parental Visits Go Smoothly
Do not let your grandchild become a go-between for communication between you and your child. Maintain direct and hopefully amicable contact with their parent, despite any feelings of hurt you might still carry. Furthermore, avoid voicing your opinion against the parent in your grandchild’s presence. This can make your grandchildren feel guilty of their relationship with their parent, and create unnecessary conflict and confusion in their mind.
It is also fundamental for you to work closely with your grandchild’s parent in order to maintain smooth and conflict-free relations. Do not hesitate to share details about your grandchild’s likes, dislikes, hobbies, achievements, and friends, since this will help the parent forge a positive relationship with their child, which is in the best interests of everyone.
Finally, it is crucial for you to be respectful of your grandchild’s opinions and sensitive to their feelings. Encourage them to share their feelings about their parents, especially during contact. You may need to step in and reassure them against any feelings of anxiety or inadequacy.
You should also be available to soothe their potential disappointments. If the grandchildren share their frustration at their parents’ lack of support, ensure you do not lose your cool with your own child in front of the grandchildren to compound the problem. Instead, help your grandchildren to feel free and secure with you, while you turn to a friend or relative to vent out and release any anger or disappointment you might have about your own child.