Do Grandparents Have Rights in California?

Hossein Berenji, Jan 10, 2021

Family situations get complicated. Sometimes, parents may choose to withhold grandchildren from their grandparents. Painful emotions like resentment and disappointment strain interfamily relationships.

Maybe you used to see your grandchildren every day or once a week. Now, you don’t see them at all. It makes sense for grandparents to feel confused and wondering “Do grandparents have rights in California?”

Sometimes, parents may be unable to care for their children because of mental health issues or substance abuse disorders. Grandparents may step up to do the caretaking work and become de facto parents.

A struggling parent may make valiant efforts to overcome their issues. In a moment of strength and happiness, they may want to enjoy custody of their child. They may decide to withhold the child from a grandparent who has been taking care of them.

Sadly, sometimes parents truly are unable to maintain the child’s health and welfare. Do grandparents have rights in California relating to their grandchildren?

In California, grandparents may have rights to visitation. They may also be able to seek custody of a grandchild, otherwise known as guardianship.

What are the Visitation Rights of Grandparents in California?

Under certain circumstances, grandparents have rights in California and a court may award visitation rights to a grandparent.

Generally, grandparents in California cannot ask for visitation rights when a child’s parents are married. 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

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

When parents are living separately, perhaps during a proceeding for divorce, grandparents may be able to obtain visitation.

To get an award of visitation in California, a grandparent must show:

  • There was a pre-existing relationship between the grandchild and grandparent.
  • The relationship “engendered a bond” between them. This is one that makes visitation between them in the best interest of the child.

The court will then also consider the best interest of the child in having grandparent visitation against the fundamental right of a parent to make child-rearing decisions.

Do I Have to Go to Court to Get Visitation with My Grandchild?

When grandparents are raising grandchildren, or they are being denied access to them, emotions can get intense. Parents and grandparents may have a range of feelings about the situation.

In some circumstances, a heated court trial may risk inflaming disputes further. To keep relations friendly, grandparents may try to use mediation to resolve the issue.

If a court filing is required, it is necessary to determine whether a child custody case is already pending. If so, a grandparent can file their petition for visitation or custody into the existing case.

A grandparent may be part of a court-ordered psychological evaluation, sometimes called a child custody evaluation. If such an evaluation is ordered, the mental health professional who conducts it may make a recommendation to the court about what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child.

In cases like these, the court may award custody to the parents and visitation to a grandparent. Either parent – or the grandparent – may still have the right to return to court if circumstances change.

When Can a Grandparent Get Guardianship of a Grandchild?

When a grandparent seeks legal and physical custody of a child, California courts may award them guardianship. In guardianship, a grandparent would have custody of the child and the right to manage the child’s property or “estate.”

When grandparents are awarded guardianship, parents are still able to ask for reasonable contact with the child. They can also ask the court to award them custody if they become able and willing to take responsibility for the child.