With all of the difficulties that accompany a divorce proceeding, a child’s grandparents are often never considered when it comes to their rights to visitation with that child. However, as many Massachusetts residents know, close relationships with grandparents are often critical components of a child’s successful upbringing. Situations arise in which there may even be an unreasonable denial of the grandparent’s visitation rights. In these situations, guidance from an experienced attorney is a wise and prudent idea.
The Law in Massachusetts
Even though grandparents can play an important role in a child’s development, under the law, there is immense deference to birth parents in most matters. For example, if a family is “intact,” meaning that a mother and father continue together in a relationship while raising their child, then grandparents generally have no right to use the court system to seek visitation.
However, in cases where a family has broken up and a single parent is denying the grandparent access to a child, then Massachusetts statutes include specific provisions concerning visitation and the rights of grandparents to petition the court for visitation. The provision establishes a host of circumstances under which grandparents can seek to gain visitation rights with their grandchildren.
The first step in seeking visitation rights is to file a complaint and “Affidavit of Care and Custody” with the court. It is at this time that the grandparents must show one of two things: (1) An existing relationship with the child that will cause him or her harm if stopped; or (2) Even without that past relationship, contact with the child is necessary to protect them from significant harm. Most successful court challenges in these cases are based on the first option.
Importantly, there are alternatives beyond starting a prolonged court fight that may come at considerable expense and take significant time. Disagreements about visitation between parents and grandparents are often rooted in old disputes. It is easy for all parties involved to get caught up in emotions and fail to truly consider the best interests of the child. By using alternative forms of dispute resolution, like mediation, these families are often able to find common ground and reach agreements that satisfy each side.
Unlike rulings handed down by a judge, mediation is a voluntary process that does not come with any binding decisions from a third-party. Instead, the process is led by a neutral mediator who facilitates discussion, offers suggestions for resolution, and otherwise helps parties reach agreements that avoid a court fight. Mediation can be used in different settings. At times, issues regarding grandparent visitation can be worked into agreements made during divorce. At other times mediation may be used outside of divorce to handle other family law conflicts that arise.
Contact a Massachusetts Family Law Attorney
If you or someone you know is a grandparent and there have been issues concerning your desire to visit with your grandchildren, or if you believe that you have been unreasonably denied visitation, an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney can help you today. Contact the Law Office of Martin Murphy LLC online or by phone at 781-285-8989 to learn more about maintaining contact with grandchildren.