Few legal matters are as complicated or emotionally-charged as grandparents’ rights. For this reason, court intervention can sometimes become necessary. Death, divorce and estrangement can all trigger a disruption of the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. If access to your grandchild has been restricted or denied, the Monmouth County divorce lawyers of Fox & Melofchik, L.L.C. can help.
In New Jersey, grandparent visitation rights are governed by the Grandparents’ Visitation Statute. When a request for formal visitation rights has been made by a grandparent, courts must examine several factors before making a determination in favor of either party. Factors can include the relationship between grandparent and grandchild; the relationship between the parents or guardians of the grandchild and the grandparent; the frequency of grandparent visitation prior to the triggering event; the nature of any existing child custody agreement between the grandchild and his or her parents. A grandparent must also demonstrate that their application for visitation was filed in good faith, and that they have no history of abusing or neglecting their grandchild.
The original statute, passed in 1972, conferred grandparents with visitation rights only if a grandchild’s parent or custodian died. Following amendments in 1973 and 1993, the statute was expanded. Currently, the New Jersey’s Grandparents’ Visitation Statute provides grandparents with legal rights to visit their grandchildren in the event of a divorce, or even when a grandchild’s nuclear family unit remains intact. Such protection is necessary when a grandparent has become estranged from his or her own child, but nonetheless seeks to maintain a relationship with their grandchild.
In 2000; however, the rights of grandparents suffered a blow when the Supreme Court ruled in Troxel v. Granville (530 U.S. 57 ) that a grandparent’s request for visitation should not override the preferences of a custodial parent so long as that custodial parent is fit. In response to Troxel, courts in New Jersey have raised the standard for prevailing in a grandparent visitation case. A petitioning grandparent must no longer only show that visitation is in the best interest of a child. Instead, a grandparent must affirmatively demonstrate that if they are denied visitation rights, their grandchild will be harmed.
At other times, when the health and safety of a grandchild is at risk, a grandparent may choose to seek more than visitation. Achieving full custody of a grandchild is possible but unlikely so long as the child has a willing and able parent. According to the 2010 Census, 127,890 children in New Jersey live in a household headed by grandparents. Of those children, nearly 50,000 are reliant solely on a grandparent for care. If a parent abandons their child, abuses their child or is addicted to drugs or alcohol; however, a court may find the underlying issues sufficiently compelling to award a grandparent full, legal custody.
Family relationships are complex and emotions run high – especially when the well-being of a child is in dispute. Monmouth County divorce lawyers at Fox & Melofchik, L.L.C. understand that the bond between grandparent and grandchild is unique, and often in need of protection. Call us today at (732) 493-9400, or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation at our offices in Ocean Township, New Jersey, where we serve clients in Monmouth County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Mercer County and the towns of Colts Neck, Rumson, Deal, Monmouth Beach, Little Silver and Holmdel.