Grandparent Visitation in Salt Lake City
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There is no specific federal law regulating grandparent privileges, though a 2000 Supreme Court case, Troxel v. Granville, established the general rule parents’ rights are above grandparents’ rights in the grandchild’s best interests. Petitioning for grandparents’ rights varies from case to case, though, and it is best to work with an experienced attorney to craft your reasonable claim for visitation rights with your grandchild. The lawyers at Christensen Law can analyze your situation in more detail to plan your best course of legal action to exercise your rights as grandparents.
Grandparent Rights in Utah
Utah law presumes that a parent’s decision to allow or prevent grandparent visitation is in the grandchild’s best interests. So, a grandparent seeking visitation must prove that visitation benefits their grandchild. A judge will consider the following factors to determine if such grandparent visitation is necessary:
- the grandparent is a fit and proper person to exercise visitation with the grandchild;
- the grandchild’s parent has unreasonably limited or denied visitation between the grandchild and grandparent;
- the grandchild’s parent is unfit or incompetent;
- the grandparent has acted as the grandchild’s caregiver or otherwise had a substantial relationship with the grandchild and a loss of that relationship will harm the child;
- the child’s parent has died or become a noncustodial parent through divorce or legal separation;
- the child’s parent has been missing for an extended period of time; or
- grandparent visitation serves the grandchild’s best interests.
In one Utah case, the court limited grandparent visitation because it interfered with the mother’s parental rights. The grandchild lived with her father and grandparents following her parents’ separation, and the grandparents petitioned the court for visitation after the grandchild’s father passed away. The grandparents were granted reduced hours of visitation because their visitation rights cannot infringe on parents’ fundamental rights (in this case, the surviving mother’s) to raise their own children. When balancing a parent’s rights and grandparent visitation privileges, a parent’s rights will always come first.
As established above, parents have a constitutional right to raise and care for their children. However, if the child’s parent is unfit or has voluntarily terminated parental rights, the grandparent can step in. More specifically, Utah law allows a third-party individual, like the grandparent, to obtain custody when:
- the grandparent has intentionally assumed the role and parental obligations of a parent;
- the grandparent and grandchild have a strong emotional bond and parent-child type relationship;
- the grandparent has contributed emotionally or financially to the child’s well-being;
- the grandparent is not financially compensated for their assumption of the parental role;
- the grandchild’s best interests are served by continuing the grandparent-grandchild relationship;
- the grandchild would be harmed by the loss of the grandparent-grandchild relationship; and
- the grandchild’s parent is absent or has abused or neglected the child.
For example, in another Utah case, a court denied a maternal grandparents’ request for custody after the grandchild’s mother had died and the father had only recently become a part of the grandchild’s life because the grandparents were unable to show that the father had abandoned, abused, or neglected the child. In other words, a parent’s temporary absence is not enough for a grandparent to obtain custody of a grandchild on the grounds of an “unfit” parent.
A grandparent has a heavy burden to prove that the grandchild’s parent does not meet basic parenting obligations. Utah law assumes that parents act in their children’s best interests and a grandparent seeking custody must show otherwise. A parent must be somehow unfit before a grandparent can petition for custody of a grandchild.
Termination of Parental and Grandparents’ Rights
In special cases, a grandparent may seek to adopt their grandchild. Adoption is a serious process, though, as it cuts off a biological parent’s rights to a child, as well as grandparents’ rights. Likewise, if a parent’s rights are terminated, a grandparent (that parent’s parent) will also lose visitation privileges with the grandchild. For instance, in one Utah case, a judge denied a paternal grandparent’s request for visitation because the grandchild’s father (the grandparent’s son) died before the grandchild was born, after which the child’s mother relinquished her parental rights and placed the child up for adoption through an agency. Although the paternal grandparents tried to intervene and prevent the adoption, the court determined that they had no standing; the grandparent’s legal rights were terminated upon their son’s death.
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Grandparents have visitation rights under Utah law, though those rights are always secondary to a parent’s rights. In certain situations, a grandparent may be entitled to visitation with a grandchild as long as the visits don’t interfere with the parents’ rights, and they serve the grandchild’s best interests. The legal team at Christensen Law can better guide you through the grandparent visitation process if you seek to exercise your grandparents’ rights. Although there are specific restrictions that prioritize a parent over a grandparent’s wishes, it is still possible in certain cases to argue for your right as a grandparent to have visitation with their grandchild.
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