Families are dynamic and typically made up of grandparents, in-laws, uncles, aunts, cousins children and grandchildren. But sometimes, due to irreconcilable differences, a family may break up or a couple’s marriage may end in divorce. When children are involved, child custody and visitation issues may dominate the dissolution proceedings. But the role of grandparents and their entitlements to visitation with their grandchildren is a whole different matter.

Residents of Michigan may find it interesting to know that since a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down a state law which allowed grandparents’ visitation if it was in the best interest of the children, it has been increasingly difficult to argue in favor of grandparent visitation. Nevertheless, the Court did not make a finding that the visitation laws are unconstitutional and third parties, such as grandparents, may petition for visitation rights. Each state varies on the issue.

One couple spent thousands of dollars and nearly two years in court to have visitation rights with two of their grandchildren. Their state allows third parties to petition to get such rights. The couple filed the petition after their daughter refused to let them see the grandchildren when her boyfriend was sent to prison for domestic violence. Community resources on this issue are limited and grandparents may not have the personal means to pursue their visitation rights. It may be better for grandparents to seek out-of-court remedies through a mediation process.

In Michigan if the parents agree, a presumption for joint custody exists. Child custody is awarded based on the best interest of the child and the court applies a 12-factor test when determining child custody. Some of these factors include the moral character of parents, the physical, emotional and mental state of all parties including that of the child, ties between the children and the parent, evidence of domestic abuse and other factors. With respect to grandparent visitation, a court may grant visitation upon separation, termination of parental rights or if the child is given to a third party other than the parent.

In general, maintaining a healthy relationship with grandparents is important and crucial for the growth of children. Those facing similar issues should consider both in- and out-of-court solutions to work towards fostering a healthy relationship between children, parents and grandparents.

Source: The Northwestern, “Spending time with grand kids meant legal fight for Green Bay area couple,” Hannah O’Brien, Sept. 9, 2012