Grandparents’ Custody Rights and Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in New Jersey
More than 50% of grandparents in the US say that their role in their grandchildren’s lives is significant and vital.
When parents divorce, that relationship can change very quickly. This might leave you wondering, are there grandparents’ custody rights or visitation rights you can pursue?
If you live in the state of New Jersey and divorce is threatening the relationship you have with your grandchild, you may be entitled to custody or visitation rights. However, this complicated process requires knowledge of what those rights are and how to exercise them.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about your grandparents’ visitation and custody rights in NJ.
Custody vs. Visitation
In a divorce, child custody refers to both legal and physical custody. Legal custody means the power to make crucial decisions on behalf of your child, and physical custody refers to who has the child living with them. Both of these can be either shared or held solely by one of the two parents involved.
Visitation is usually granted when only one parent has physical custody of the child. Visitation arrangements may be informal or backed by the court.
What Are Grandparents’ Custody Rights?
Grandparents can seek custody over a child if:
- The child’s parents are deemed unfit.
- The child’s parents consent to give the grandparents control.
- The child’s parents are deceased.
- The child has been living with the grandparents for one year or longer.
In deciding whether or not to grant grandparents’ custody rights, the court considers what’s in the child’s best interest.
What Do Courts Consider When Granting Custody?
Grandparents have to have a solid case to be granted custody. This is because the courts always prefer that children live with a parent, especially if both parents are living.
If the parents aren’t willing to provide their consent for custody, then the onus is on the grandparents to prove that the parents are unfit. And they must prove that both parents are unfit, not just one.
After that hurdle, they’ll also need to convince the court that they’re the best person to look after the child. That means that they need to overcome any other family members who are looking to gain custody.
As part of this, the court may look at the relationship between the grandparents and child before the divorce. They’ll also look at the age of the grandparents, their health, as well as their ability to financially support the child.
Grandparents Visitation Rights
A 2000 Supreme Court opinion issued over Troxel v. Granville’s case complicated the matter of grandparents’ visitation rights. In this case, the Supreme Court protected a parent’s right to decide whether grandparents would be allowed visitation.
This sent shockwaves through the state courts and, in New Jersey, parents used this opinion to have grandparents’ visitation petitions dismissed without question.
However, the 2014 case R.K. and A.K. v. D.L., Jr. put a stop to that when the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court protected a grandparent’s ability to engage in discovery and present evidence regarding their case.
What grandparents’ must prove in the courts:
Grandparents’ must prove that a child will be harmed if a parent or parents deny visitation. A judge will consider any strong relevant proof outlined below to make their determination regarding visitation.
- The death of one parent
- Changes in the home during or after the divorce or separation
- Proof that the child will suffer psychological harm
- History of parents physical or sexual abuse
- The relationship between grandparents and the child as a full-time caretaker or babysitter
- Evidence of other factors that may be relevant to the child’s best interest
Allegations like spending happy times together will not be sufficient to gain or keep visitation rights.
Seeking Grandparents’ Rights in NJ?
Grandparents’ Custody and Visitation Rights
Grandparents’ custody and visitation rights do exist, but the process of petitioning and winning isn’t easy. A petition (formal written request) must be filed with the New Jersey court describing the existing relationship or efforts to establish one.
If you already have visitation and a parent now denies visitation, the petition can ask the court to enforce your visitation rights.
Regarding either custody or visitation, it’s not simple. The courts prefer that children live with a parent, so gaining custody means meeting strict and rigid qualifications. Visitation rights can be just as difficult to achieve.
For the best chance at gaining visitation or custody, you need the help of a professional. Contact Dalena & Bosch to find out how we can help.
Our Family Law Firm is located in Madison, NJ in Morris County.