Grandparent Visitation and "Third Parent" Rights / by Cassandra Hearn

In today’s world, the concept of what is a “family” is evolving and changing rapidly. The old notion that a “nuclear family,” with a married mother and father, is the only type of family that will benefit a child is disappearing. Nowadays, parents divorce (or never marry in the first place), some parents are same-sex or transgender, parents adopt to blend their families, and sometimes other relatives or friends step in and care for a child on behalf of a parent. In short, there are endless possibilities on how to make sure a child’s needs are met. Having a large support structure in place to help love and care for a child is almost always a positive result of these changing concepts of family, but it can make custody battles more complicated.

Grandparents can join a court custody battle, and ask for custody or visitation. In order to request court-ordered visitation, a grandparent must prove several elements. First, if the parents are married to each other, the grandparent must show that 1) the parents are separated, and the separation is intended to be permanent or at least indefinite; 2) one of the parents has disappeared for at least a month, and the other parent does not know where he or she is 3) one of the parents joins in the grandparent’s request for visitation; 4) the child does not reside with the grandparents; or 5) the child has been adopted by a step-parent. The grandparent may also establish standing to bring a suit if 1) one of the parents has died; 2) the parents are currently in the process of getting a divorce; 3) the parents are married but are separated permanently; or 4) the parents are not married. In the event a grandparent is able to establish standing to bring the suit, the inquiry does not end there. The requesting grandparent must then prove that he or she already has an established relationship with the grandchild and is bonded to the grandchild, then the court must balance the bond between the grandparent and grandchild against the parents’ right to make decisions for the child.

California’s so-called “Third Parent Law” also provides a way that a non-biological person acting as a parent may gain court-ordered custody of a child. This law provides that a child may have a third parent, also called a “presumed parent,” and this parent may establish that he or she has the same rights as a biological parent. The law recognizes that in some situations, a child may have three parental figures that are a daily part of the child’s life, and refusing to acknowledge that relationship and separate the child from one of the parental figures could be devastating for the child. A court may determine that a child has more than two parents in cases where failure to do so could be detrimental to the child. Grandparents and siblings of the child are not covered under this statute.

If you have issues concerning grandparent or third parent visitation, you need an experienced attorney. We can help you review your individual situation and talk about what steps you need to take. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss your situation