Grandparents’ Visitation Rights

When I grew up the most popular show on television was The Waltons. For those younger readers, the Waltons portrayed a family living in rural Virginia during the 1930s. Despite their severe economic troubles, the Walton were a stable, nurturing family with a bunch of kids, mom and dad, and Grandma and Grandpa Walton all living under the same roof. Grandma and grandpa were essential to the family structure and embraced by the entire flock. Each episode trumpeted the value of family, honesty, and hard work. And, as you might recall, most episodes ended with all member of the family bidding one another "goodnight" until all lights were out and the world seemed at peace.

My how things have changed! Television has replaced the Waltons with the Bundys, Simpsons, Osbournes, and alas ... the Kardasians. Nowadays, it is easier to understand what Ozzie Osbourne is saying than defining what constitutes a "family." Kids describe themselves as coming from "blended families," "step-families," "mom -only," "dad-only," "mom-mom families," "dad-dad families," friend-families", on and on. Sadly, thirty-four percent of all children in Ohio live in single parent households, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

As society changes, our laws must follow. Questions that were rare a few decades ago now present everyday. What happens when granny is not around? What if mom or dad doesn't want granny around? What about step-grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, and other extended family members who might want to be a part of a child's upbringing?

It used to be the case that grandparents had no legal right to see their grandkids if the parents refused access. The law has changed. In Ohio, a grandparent (or others) may petition a Court for visitation rights under three circumstances:

· The child's parent is deceased, or

· The child was born to an unmarried woman, or

· The parents are divorced or separated.

Ohio law allows Judges to consider many factors in deciding to grant visitation rights to a petitioner. These factors include:

· The wishes of the parents,

· The child's age,

· The prior relationship between the petitioner and child,

· The distance the petitioner live from the child,

· The criminal background of the person seeking visitation (duh),

· The amount of time the child spends with other relatives.

In sum, the Court looks to the child's best interest before affording such visitation rights.

And, as noted above, this is not just for grandparents. The law allows others to seek these visitation rights. For example, in the situation where the parents have been divorced, the law allows blood relatives or "any person other than a parent" to seek petition for such rights.

So, what does this all mean? The law has changed to keep up with our world of evolving and revolving families. The door is now open to others who formerly had no visitation rights. Whether or not "it takes a village to raise a child," the law now affords that chance.

So move over Grandma Walton, and bid the entire Wanton clan, "goodnight."