Most grandparents do everything they can to support their grandchildren, and every year in California, grandparents even step up to raise grandchildren. If you’re a grandparent in California wanting custody or visitation rights with your grandchild or grandchildren, you are not alone. An experienced family law attorney can help you understand grandparents’ rights for custody and visitation in California.  

You should know that certain requirements must be met before a grandparents’ rights for custody and visitation rights in California can become actionable. This means that there are certain circumstances under which grandparents can ask courts for custody. 

When Can Grandparents Ask California Courts for Custody or Visitation Rights?

Under California law, grandparents can ask for reasonable visitation with their grandchildren. However, two requirements must be met before the family court will award visitation:

  • The family court has to find that there was a pre-existing relationship between grandparent and grandchild that has “engendered a bond.” This means that there is such a bond between grandparent and grandchild that visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild.
  • The family court has to balance the best interest of the child in having visitation with a grandparent with the rights of the parents to make decisions about their child.

While it may sound like these requirements are simple to meet, grandparents’ rights cases can be some of the most challenging.

Why? The child’s natural parents have a fundamental right under the United States Constitution to make choices about the parenting of their own child. If a parent is denying visitation to a grandparent, the court will often defer to that choice. 

What Are the Visitation Rights of Grandparents in California?

Grandparents in California cannot usually ask for visitation rights when a child’s parents are married, but there are a few exceptions. A grandparent may be able to ask for visitation if: 

  • A child’s parents are living separately
  • A parent’s location is unknown and has been for a least one month
  • One of the parents joins in the grandparent’s request
  • The child does not live with either of their parents
  • The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent

In deciding whether to award custody or visitation to grandparents, the court must consider other factors, like the relationship between the child and grandparent. 

What Happens in a Grandparents’ Custody or Visitation Case?

Any time a person asks the court to change custody orders or makes a Request for Orders (RFO), the parties will have a chance for mediation to try to agree or compromise on the request. 

In some cases, a competent family law attorney can negotiate an agreement that works for both parties without ever having to go to court. This agreement will be filed with and approved by, the family court. It will then become an enforceable judgment. 

What if a parent does not agree to allow grandparent visitation rights? The matter may need to be litigated. Some grandparent’s rights cases involve:

Family law attorneys understand the emotional and sometimes high-conflict nature of custody cases. Grandparents who have a knowledgeable family law attorney on their side may have a much better chance of succeeding. 

If a Grandparent Is Awarded Custody or Visitation, Is It Permanent?

No. In fact, most child custody judgments are never considered truly permanent. This is because the law recognizes the need to change these judgments when circumstances change. It is the goal that custody judgments always reflect an arrangement that is in the best interest of the child. 

What does this mean for grandparents who are awarded custody or visitation rights? Generally, courts will want to keep a child in a stable environment and not alienate them from a loved one. However, if circumstances change and custody in a grandparent is no longer warranted, a parent may successfully ask the court to terminate grandparent custody.