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Grandparent Rights: Three Standards

Grandparents and GrandkidsWe field many calls in our busy family law practice about grandparent rights. Some want to know if they can collect child support payments if they are helping raise their grandkids. Some grandparents want to know the options if they disapprove of parents’ decisions. Others wonder how to protect their relationship with the grandchildren after the parents divorce. The possible scenarios are so varied it’s difficult to address them all in one blog but there are three standards that Michigan courts take into account when considering a grandparent rights case. For more detailed information about specific cases, contact the Law Office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000.

Precedent in Grandparent Rights Cases

The primary precedent is the 2000 Supreme Court case: Troxel v. Granville. In it, the court ruled that a mother’s parental rights over her two daughters took precedence over their paternal grandparents’ visitation rights in the wake of their son’s (the children’s father’s) suicide. The case is the modern basis for court decisions regarding Grandparent Rights according to The Spruce article, “A Short History of Grandparents’ Rights” by Susan Adcox.

“The main sticking point in post-Troxel grandparent visitation law is the question of best interest. Grandparents striving to win visitation with a grandchild must prove that such contact is in the best interest of the child, but different states have set different thresholds for proof,” according to The Spruce article.

Although every state is different, the three basic requirements of a Grandparent Rights petition are: the child’s best interests; an established custodial environment and the disruption of visitation based on the absence of the biologically-related parent.

#1 Harm Standard vs. Best-Interests

In some states, grandparents petitioning for visitation rights, must show that it is in the best interests of the child to have contact with their grandparents. Michigan laws go one step further in saying that in order to meet the standard for awarding Grandparents’ Rights, the children would be harmed if they were denied contact.

#2 Established Custodial Environment

The grandparents must prove an established custodial environment. This means that the grandparents can demonstrate that the child looks to them for help, advice, comfort, love, support and basic needs. As with custody matters, the courts will be looking at:

  • The duration and quality of the grandparents’ existing relationship with the grandchildren.
  • The grandparents’ moral, mental and physical fitness.
  • The child’s reasonable preference depending on age and maturity
  • Whether awarding grandparents’ visitation would create emotional hostility between the grandparents and parent and whether that hostility would negatively impact the child.
  • A history of abuse against any children.
  • The courts will also look at the parent’s reason for denying contact with the grandparents

#3 Absence of a connection through the biological parent

The courts will want to see that the grandparents petitioning have been deprived of their right to visit with grandchildren. It could be that the parent (that is related to the grandparents) is deceased, incarcerated or divorced from the parent that has custody of the children OR that neither parent is fit to make decisions on the children’s behalf.

If all of these considerations are met, Grandparent Visitation Rights may be awarded. There are restrictions however. The Michigan Legislation is clear that the Grandparent Rights do not have the same weight as parental rights. For instance, Grandparent Visitation does not confer parental rights such as the determination of school district, medical procedures, step-parent adoption, or other custody-related matters. The presence of a Grandparent Visitation order does not preclude a parent’s right to move.

“The court shall not enter an order prohibiting an individual who has legal custody of a child from changing the domicile of the child if the prohibition is primarily for the purpose of allowing a grandparent to exercise the rights conferred in a grandparenting time order entered under this section,” according to Michigan Legislation CHILD CUSTODY ACT OF 1970 (EXCERPT), Act 91 of 1970, 722.27b.

Experienced Attorneys Know Grandparent Rights

The experienced attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates in Milford, Michigan handle family law matters including grandparent rights, stepparent adoption, prenuptial agreements, domestic partnerships and many other types of legal cases. For more information about your specific legal situation, contact the law firm at 248-676-1000 for a free consultation. Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates attorneys help clients throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Livingston, Genesee and Washtenaw counties. We handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Wixom; Commerce; Walled Lake; West Bloomfield; Waterford; Linden; Grand Blanc; Holly; South Lyon; Howell; New Hudson and many more local communities.

Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates

Grandparents' Visitation Rights