Can Grandparents Get Visitation Rights in Utah?
For most grandparents, there's no love like the one you have for your child's own child. Many of the grandparents we know describe the experience of spending time with their grandchildren as being even more enjoyable than parenting, since you have all of the love, but not as much of the work. Unfortunately for many grandparents, they also have less control over the relationship. It's one thing while your child and their spouse or partner are together, but what if they break up or divorce? How will that affect your ability to see your grandchildren? Can grandparents get visitation rights in Utah?
The short answer is "it depends" and there are some conditions and limitations to that short answer. Learn how grandparents can get visitation rights in Utah, and what might prevent them from doing so.
How Can Grandparents Get Visitation Rights in Utah?
If your child is getting divorced, your first thoughts are likely about how they are doing, perhaps followed closely by the question of how this development will affect your relationship with your grandchildren. You may even wonder if there is some way, within the divorce case, to provide for them to have regular time with their grandchildren. Unfortunately for Utah grandparents, this is not possible. The divorce is a legal matter between the divorcing couple, and doesn't grant rights to third parties.
In order for grandparents to pursue visitation, they have to file a petition in the juvenile court. However, it is not simply a matter of filing a petition and letting a judge decide that because you clearly love your grandchild, you are entitled to visitation.
In Utah, there is a rebuttable presumption that what a child's parent decides regarding grandparent visitation is in the child's best interests. "Rebuttable presumption" means that the court starts from the premise that the parent's decision is in the child's best interests, but that the grandparent can overcome that presumption by presenting evidence that what the parent has decided is not actually what is best for the child.
Now, you may have strong feelings that your ex-daughter-in-law or son-in-law is damaging your grandchild by keeping the two of you apart, but that strong feeling is not enough for you to prevail. Neither will basic disagreements about whether the parent's parenting style are good for the child. The court will consider such factors as:
- Whether you are a "fit and proper person" to have visitation;
- Whether your visitation with your grandchild has been unreasonably limited or denied altogether;
- Whether your grandchild's parent is unfit or incompetent;
- Whether you have acted as your grandchild's caregiver or custodian or had a substantial relationship with your grandchild such that losing that relationship is likely to harm your grandchild;
- Whether your child who is the grandchild's parent has died or become a non-custodial parent through divorce or legal separation;
- Whether your child who is the grandchild's parent has been missing for an extended period; or
- Whether visitation is in your grandchild's best interest.
Even if you have had a strong relationship with your grandchild and spent regular time with them, that is no guarantee you would be granted visitation. Utah courts have ruled that unless denying grandparent visitation is shown to be harmful to the grandchild, a grandparent's rights cannot supersede the parent's own fundamental right to make decisions regarding his or her child.
What Should I Do if I Want Grandparent Visitation?
If you are concerned about the prospect of losing time with your grandchild because your child is getting divorced, talk to your own child about getting to spend time with your grandchild during your child's own parenting time. This is probably the simplest and least stressful option. If your child's parenting time is limited, or he or she seems unwilling to share it with you, you could consider filing a petition for grandparent visitation, but this could put you at odds with one or both of your grandchild's parents. Even if you were to win the court case (an uphill battle), there would be a personal cost, and you should imagine the stress it could put on your beloved grandchild.
If you are considering suing for grandparent visitation because your own child has passed away or is missing, and you don't want to lose your relationship with your grandchild, it is probably still best to first go directly to the child's parent, express your desire to remain close to your grandchild, and try to work out an arrangement. He or she may welcome the support and assistance of another loving adult in the child's life, and dealing directly with your grandchild's parent will not feel as threatening to them as being served with a lawsuit.
If you and your grandchild's parent do not have the type of relationship that would allow you to work out such an arrangement, filing a petition to gain visitation might be your only option. You should be aware that you will have to be able to show abuse or neglect against your grandchild's parent in juvenile court, which may be difficult to do. Be sure to work with an experienced, ethical family law attorney who will help you objectively evaluate your likelihood of success, and advocate for you in a way that doesn't strain relationships unnecessarily.
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