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Grandparents Have Rights, Too

Over the river and thru the wood, to grandmother’s house we go.

This old holiday song can stir fond family memories as families gather and celebrate the season.

Life is not always so merry. Fractures can and do occur within a family. When a breakup occurs, separating or divorcing parents face many challenges, including the role, if any, of grandparents. It does not take long to realize that grandparent contact may be virtually extinguished–without fault or explanation–when the family unit disbands.

The good news is that both Missouri and Kansas have laws that recognize situations where a court can order independent grandparent rights. Kansas grants visitation rights to grandparents where the court finds that visitation is in the child’s best interest and where a substantial relationship between child and grandparent already exists. The two elements are important to keep in mind by grandparents who anticipate that a family relationship may result in divorce or separation. First, the grandparent in a Kansas case has to have an existing substantial relationship with the child, not a relationship that a grandparent initiates or seeks to initiate after the breakup. Second, the visitation has to be in the child’s best interest, meaning simply that grandparent contact is good for the child. The burden is on the grandparent to prove both elements.

In Missouri the courts can grant grandparent visitation in circumstances where a divorce is pending, where one parent is deceased and the surviving parent denies the grandparent reasonable visitation, and in the circumstances where the grandparent has been unreasonably denied visitation for more than 90 days. As in Kansas, the courts in Missouri require that the grandparent visitation be in the child’s best interest.

In either situation there are limitations to obtaining grandparent rights, and an interested party should contact a family law lawyer to determine his or her rights as a grandparent.

Grandparent rights are not intended to supersede those of the natural parent, and great deference is given to parents in deciding appropriate grandparent time. Grandparent time likely will never be what it once was prior to a family breakup. But the joy of grandparent and child visits does not have to disappear altogether.

Richard D. Ralls practices family law with Ralls Law Firm, LLC
Originally printed in the Kansas City Star