Maintaining the Relationship With Your Grandchildren After Divorce or Loss
As family situations change, children need the stability provided by their relationships, routines and environment to counteract the effects of these changes. One of the relationships that often offers safety and reassurance to children is the one built over years with their grandparents. But when that relationship is threatened after a separation, divorce or the death of one parent, grandparents have a legal right to seek court-ordered visitation.
Grandparents’ Rights in New Jersey
The state of New Jersey recognizes that grandparents have legal visitation rights with their grandchildren even if the parents separate or divorce or if a parent dies. In some cases, even when a child is adopted, his or her biological grandparents may successfully petition for visitation if they meet the court’s requirements related to the child’s emotional and physical health. Since there are certain things grandparents must prove to be granted visitation, they may want to ask for assistance from a New Jersey family law attorney to help them gather evidence and follow all the steps that are required.
Meeting the Burden of Proof
When grandparents petition for visitation rights, the courts will first consider if it is in the best interests of the child no matter the family situation. Related to this, grandparents must provide evidence of certain things, such as:
- The relationship between the grandparents and the child
- Expert testimony about the way the child would be affected if his or her contact with his or her grandparents is cut off
- The length of time since the grandparents have seen the child
- The relationship between the parents and the grandparents
In addition, the courts will also consider why the grandparents are seeking court-ordered visitation, if there is any history of abuse of the child from the parents or grandparents, and the custody arrangement between the divorced or separated parents. During this process, the courts may also look at how the grandparents get along with the child’s other parent. Finally, courts will also consider if the grandparents had, at some point, become full caretakers of their grandchild as well as any other factors they consider relevant when deciding whether to grant visitation.
In some cases, the grandparents may wish to seek full custody of their grandchildren. In New Jersey, grandparents must show that the child’s parents are unfit to take care of the child. They must provide evidence that the child’s health and physical and emotional needs are best met by living with the grandparents in an environment that is deemed safe and where the child will receive support.
How to Seek Visitation
The process for petitioning for visitation involves several steps. During this process, a New Jersey family law attorney can assist you with them all. First, you must file a petition for visitation that includes a detailed description of your relationship with your grandchild or your attempt to establish a relationship with your grandchild as well as your proposed visitation schedule. Next, you must officially announce your intention to seek visitation to your grandchild’s parents. Then the court will ask you and the parents to attempt to negotiate a visitation schedule through mediation. Finally, a hearing will be scheduled.
Continuing your relationship with your grandchildren after their family situation changes is important in providing stability and a nurturing environment for them. While many grandparents and parents have no problem with establishing consistent visitations informally, if you feel that your time with your grandchild is being limited or stopped, you can seek guidance and help from the attorneys at Morgenstern & Rochester. You can visit our office in Cherry Hill or call us at (856) 489-6200 to schedule a consultation to seek court-ordered visitation. Separation, divorce or the death of your adult child does not have to mean the end of your relationship with your grandchildren.