Knowledgeable Annapolis Family Lawyers Explain Grandparent Rights and Visitation
Information for Maryland clients seeking access to their grandchildren
Complicated family dynamics arise during divorces. In some cases, parents are not the sole caregivers to their children. Grandparents often have a special and close relationship with their grandchildren and can even be the de facto parent or legal guardian to a child for some or most of their lives — especially if the child’s parents are in unstable or are unfit to care for their children.
In Maryland, there are many reasons a grandparent might seek custody or visitation with their grandchild. A trusted Annapolis family lawyer can help you and your family understand grandparent rights and visitation, especially when there has been a significant relationship between a grandparent and grandchild. Let Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC represent your interests as a grandparent.
Grandparents can be de facto parents
Typically, a grandparent will qualify as a third party in a custody case. A court could find a grandparent to be a de facto parent – especially if the grandparent has been the primary caretaker for the child. Maryland courts will consider you to be functioning as a de facto parent if you can prove that:
- The legal parent or guardian consented to and fostered the relationship between you and the child.
- You have lived with the child during his or her natural life.
- To a significant degree, you perform parental functions for the child.
- A parent-child bond has been forged over time, and benefits the child.
If the courts decide a grandparent is a de facto parent, the court can possibly award custody of a child to the grandparent.
Reasonable visitation expectations of a grandparent
Grandparent visitation rights are codified in the Maryland Annotated Code, Family Law Article § 9-102. The statute was amended in 1993, and reads: “An Equity Court may: consider a Petition for reasonable visitation of a grandchild by a grandparent; and if the Court finds it to be in the best interest of the child, grant visitation rights to a grandparent.”
Troxel v. Granville was a case argued in front of the United States Supreme Court in 2000 that dealt with the pertinent issues concerning visitation rights of grandparents with grandchildren. The case found that parents who are fit to raise their own children will make decisions and act in the best interest of the child. The case stated that these parents do indeed enjoy a constitutional right to raise their children without government interference.
This case matters because if a fit parent wants to restrict access to a child’s grandparent or grandparents, that decision is completely dependent upon the discretion of the parent. The government will not intervene. The case also noted that, however, in the event that the exclusion of grandparent visitation would represent a substantial harm to a child, the parent’s constitutional right to child rearing can be superseded.
In 2007, the Court of Appeals affirmed the 2000 decision that parents have a fundamental right to control and delegate child rearing, as long as they are fit parents. Grandparents may be awarded visitation only if the parents are deemed unfit or when exceedingly exceptional circumstances exist. The Court stated:
“To preserve fundamental parental liberty interests, we now apply a gloss to the Maryland Grandparent Visitation Statute requiring a threshold showing of either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances indicating that the lack of grandparental visitation has a significant deleterious effect upon the children who are the subject of the petition.”
Thus, a grandparent is unlikely to be successful petitioning for visitation in Maryland courts over the objection of the child’s parents, unless the grandparent can prove that the parent is unfit to care for the child or if the grandparent can prove that denying visitation will cause substantial harm to the child.
Tenacious Annapolis lawyers are here to protect your rights as a grandparent
Grandparents who believe they should have a legal right to custody or visitation should secure the representation of a reputable Maryland family lawyer to navigate the laws, system, and courts. Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC provides thoughtful guidance and counsel to clients. To reserve a consultation, please call 410-921-2422 or fill out the firm’s contact form.