Filing for Grandparent Visitation
Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.
NOTE: In this fact sheet, "grandparent" means both grandparent and also great-grandparent.
There may be a time when your grandchild's parent does not want to let you visit your grandchild.
Normally, parents have a fundamental right to decide who their children will or will not visit.
However, in limited cases, you may be able to get a court order of visitation.
Talk to them first:
Legal battles for visitation are long and costly. They can be painful for everyone involved. This is especially true for children. Sometimes the adults forget that the most important thing is the well-being of the child.
To avoid this, you should first try to reason with the parent. Find out why the parent will not let you visit and whether this is something that can be fixed. If you cannot reach an agreement, you also might try mediation before you file a lawsuit.
Requirements for grandparent visitation:
If you file a lawsuit, the court may grant you visitation, but only if:
- The parent is unfit, or your grandchild will be significantly harmed without the visitation;
- The visitation is in your grandchild's best interest; and
- Your grandchild's nuclear family has been disrupted.
You must bring enough evidence to prove all these things to the court. Unless you prove them, the parent has a right to refuse you visitation.
Even if you are the best grandparent ever, it is not enough to show that visitation is in your grandchild's best interest. The court will not even look at best interests until after it finds that the parent is unfit or that your grandchild will be harmed without visitation.
These same requirements apply even if the parent is a single parent, an adoptive parent, or a step-parent.
These things are not required if you and the parent reach an agreement and a court recognizes that agreement.
For purpose of this visitation dispute, there are several ways that a parent may be unfit. For example, he may have a history of domestic abuse. Or he may have a drug dependency that he has not sought treatment for.
The standard of unfitness here is not the same as what is required for termination of parental rights.
Best interests of the child:
To determine what is in the best interests of your grandchild, the court must consider many things. Some of the things the court must look at are:
- The needs of your grandchild;
- The age and reasonable preference of your grandchild;
- The length, quality, and closeness of any current relationship between you and your grandchild; and
- Your willingness to encourage a close relationship between your grandchild and the parent.
Nuclear family disrupted:
There are several ways the nuclear family may be disrupted. Some examples of family disruption are:
- A pending divorce, legal separation, or annulment between the parents;
- A finalized divorce, legal separation, or annulment between the parents;
- One of the parents dying;
- One of the parents going to prison; and
- Termination of one or both parents' parental rights.
In some cases, you must have a strong, current relationship with your grandchild. In other cases, it is enough if in the past you had a relationship with your grandchild. In a few cases, you may get visitation even if you do not have a current or past relationship with your grandchild.
Costs of transportation, etc:
If you get a visitation order, you must pay for transportation and any other costs of the visitation.
Enforcing the visitation order:
If you get a visitation order, and the parent violates it, you can go to court to enforce it. As with seeking visitation in the first place, you should try to resolve things with the parent first.
The court will order you and the parent to go to mediation first. The goal of the mediation is to get you and the parent to reach an agreement. If you do, the court will recognize the agreement.
The court may make a new visitation schedule. It may order make-up visitation time for you. And it may take other action to enforce the visitation.
Termination of your visitation:
If you get visitation order, the parent may later file a lawsuit to terminate your visitation.
The parent would then have the burden to prove why visitation should end.
The parent would have to show the court that:
- There has been a change in circumstances; and
- Termination of your visitation is in the grandchild's best interests.
You can read the text of the statute that allows grandparent visitation at 43 O.S. 109.4 at this link: