One question that comes up a lot is what rights do grandparents have to visit their grandchildren if the parents object. This is an area of law that has caused a good deal of confusion because the law keeps evolving. At present, the answer to the question is that grandparents do not have many rights but they do have some.
New Jersey has a grandparent visitation statute which allows grandparents to petition the Court to compel visitation with their grandchildren. New Jersey is not alone in having such a law. The United States Supreme Court has determined that open-ended statutes that allow grandparents to seek visitation over the objection of the parents generally infringe on the parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit.
At first glance, this would seem to be the end of grandparents’ rights. However, the Supreme Court left some room for state courts to maneuver. New Jersey Supreme Court has actually been quite active in this regard giving grandparents as much rights as possible within the confines of what the United States Supreme Court ruled. In New Jersey, the general rule still is that grandparents do not have the right to demand visitation but there are exceptions.
The most common exception is if the grandparents can show that a denial of visitation will cause harm to the child. The question then becomes what is meant by harm to the child. Generally this refers to psychological harm to a child if a deep bond has been forged between that child and his or her grandparents. Often times this will require a psychologist to testify. An example where such a bond could be formed is if a grandparent provided daily day care with the grandchild for several hours per day. This raises the grandparent above a normal grandparent who occasionally sees the child to a permanent fixture in the child’s life. In a situation like that, it can be possible to show harm to the child.