Dealing with in-laws can be tough, and we get that. If you have formed a bond with your ex-husband’s family, it can be difficult to lose your ties with them during the divorce. On the other hand, sometimes in-laws are so toxic that you do not want them anywhere near your child. Your child’s grandparents may not always have their best interests at heart.
Many people are not even aware that grandparents’ rights are a thing, and few people really understand them. If this is your first time hearing about grandparents’ rights, don’t worry. There is no reason for there to be a shiver of fear running down your spine. We want to help you understand these laws.
WHAT ARE GRANDPARENTS’ RIGHTS?
Grandparents’ rights concern visitation. They work the same way visitation rights for parents do. A court can order that grandparents can visit at certain times. The exact nature of the visits and their frequency are left up to a judge.
You should also know that there are nationwide laws regarding this issue. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court wrestled with this issue in the case Troxel v. Granville. The court decided that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions regarding their children.
Parents decide (most of the time) what is in the best interests of their child, the court ruled. A grandparent is not assumed to know better than the parent. A mother is presumed to be acting in the best interest of a child if they ban grandpa from visiting, for example.
Troxel v. Granville is not the final say, however. Courts are required to give “special weight” to the decisions of the parents. That weight may be limited or expanded by your county judge, or state law.
In Massachusetts, grandma and grandpa have a little bit more difficulty in getting access to the child. The parents’ rights are higher than those of grandparents in our state. One of the major cases concerning grandparents’ rights is Blixt v. Blixt. This ruling established a principle called “presumptive validity”. In non-legal speak, in order to obtain visitation, a grandparent must either prove that not being allowed to visit the child would harm your son or daughter or show that there is a pre-existing relationship with your child that existed prior to grandparent filing their case.
It is the responsibility of the grandparent to prove that not visiting the child will cause the child harm. This is a major hurdle. There are a few different ways to demonstrate this, but none of them are surefire methods.
For example, grandma could show that she lived with the child and was the primary caretaker for a period of time. Sleepovers and ice-skating that one time are probably not going to fly. The grandparent must have been the primary caretaker for quite a while, which would then prove that the pre-existing relationship with your child exists or further that your son or daughter will suffer without the visits from their grandparent.
If a child of a certain age of tells a judge that they would like their grandparents to visit, that is important. The court will also listen to the testimony of other professionals, such as nannies, to determine the best interest of the child.
HOW EVERYDAY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED BY GRANDPARENTS’ RIGHTS
This is all legal stuff. Let’s look at what all this means for you.
Massachusetts allows grandparents to file a petition to visit their grandchildren if the parents are divorced or living apart. Not every petition is successful. As mentioned above, they have a very high bar to clear if they want to see their children.
Your child’s opinion matters. Like we said before, the court may consider their opinion. Children can be naïve. They might not understand grandma’s narcissism, and that she in only giving junior gifts as a way to control him. Grandpa may like spending time with his grandson because he has a little butler to do all of his responsibilities for him.
As a parent, you need to explain the grandparents’ actions to your children. You have your own explanation for their actions. It may be a good idea to sit down and have a talk with your kids. Divorce can be difficult for them, and they have their own wants, needs, and fears.
THE LEGAL STEPS
Section 39D of Massachusetts’s Laws says that grandparents have a right to file for visitation. If you do not want your children to be in contact with them, you will have to act quickly.
It may be a good idea to contact your family lawyer. They will have the insight you need to disprove their case. Whether you go through mediation or wind up in court, it is usually worth it to have a legal expert in your corner.
Throughout the proceedings, you should remain calm. Remember, the burden of proof is on them. They have a difficult road to go down, and not you. Posting angry rants on Facebook and losing your composure in public is not a good way to prove that you are a fit parent.
Talk to your children. If you believe they are mature enough, let them know what is going on in a reasonable way. You are doing this for them, after all.
If you have any questions about grandparents’ rights in Massachusetts you should speak with a lawyer. They will have the legal expertise to answer questions. Everyone has their own story. It is important that you let your story be known.