Sometimes parents will ask if the grandparents have any rights to visitation during their divorce or custody case. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court decided Troxel v. Granville, which stated that parents have a fundamental right to the “care, custody, and control of their children.” The Court went further to say that cases considering non-parent visitation (including grandparents), must apply a presumption that fit parents are acting in the best interests of their children.
So what does this mean for grandparents? It means that unless there is a visitation statute passed by the state legislature regarding non-parent visitation, the biological parents have the right to custody, care, and control.
In the District of Columbia, there is no statutory provision for grandparent visitation. The parents have the choice whether the child can visit with his or her grandparents. Overruling parental decisions about contact with grandparents is extremely difficult.
In Virginia, any person with a legitimate interest in the care and custody of a child can petition for custody under Virginia Code 20-124.2. A person with a legitimate interest includes grandparents under the Virginia Code. However, in order to get visitation the grandparents must prove that the child would suffer actual harm with out the visitation. This is a very high standard to meet, and so it’s nearly impossible for grandparents to get visitation if the parents won’t allow it.
Grandparents have the option of trying mediation, and perhaps a visitation schedule can be worked out with the parents. But the Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that the best way to have a relationship with your grandchildren is to have a good relationship with your children.