Often times, grandparents play an integral role in their grandchildren’s lives. Whether it be simply spending quality time or actually assisting in raising their grandchildren, grandparents are important to fostering and developing our next generation.
When faced with divorce, or another form of family separation, grandparents are frequently left out of the equation for timesharing or visitation with the children involved – their grandchildren. While some states provide grandparents an ability to request visitation rights, Florida has historically made such a request very difficult. In divorce cases, grandparents have no visitation rights, unless such visitation is agreed to by both parents. In short, grandparents are permitted to request visitation with their grandchildren in only very limited circumstances:
- If one or both parents are deceased, missing, vegetative state, or violent criminal, you may seek visitation from the court;
- If your grandchild is deemed dependent and removed from the parent(s) physical custody, you may seek visitation from the court; or
- If both parents have abused, abandoned, or neglected your grandchild, you can seek to terminate the parental rights and adopt your grandchild.
Florida Statute 752.011
(parents absent or violent criminals)
Since 2015, with the passage of Section 752.011, Florida Statutes, a grandparent of a minor child may petition the court for visitation with the grandchild only under the following circumstances:
a) Both parents are “deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state.”
a) One parent is “deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state” AND
b) Other parent “has been convicted of a felony or an offense of violence evincing behavior that poses a substantial threat of harm of the child’s health or welfare.”
Once a grandparent meets these criteria, the statute sets forth the process and procedure you must follow to request visitation.
In sum, so long as one parent is present and not convicted of a violent crime, this statute does not provide much assistance to grandparents seeking court-ordered visits with their grandchildren.
Florida Statute 39.509
Assuming your circumstances do not afford you any rights under the above statute, Florida law provides another limited set of circumstances that might assist you.
Pursuant to Section 39.509, Florida Statutes, maternal and paternal grandparents (as well as step-grandparents) are entitled to “reasonable visitation” with a grandchild who has been adjudicated a dependent child. A child is “dependent” when the court finds there is a sufficient basis to take the child from the parents’ physical custody due to abandonment, abuse, or neglect.
The visitation allowed by this statute must be in the child’s best interest and must not interfere with the goals of the parents’ case plan. Such visitation may be unsupervised, frequent and continuing. Unfortunately for the grandparents, once the child is returned to the physical custody of the parent or parents, the grandparent’s visitation rights shall terminate. See Fla. Stat. 39.509(4).
Florida Statute 63.087
(termination and adoption)
Relatives – such as grandparents – are also afforded a unique opportunity to seek the termination of biological parents’ rights in conjunction with an adoption. Typically, if a third party wishes to adopt a child, there are two separate proceedings that must occur – the termination and then the adoption.
However, as a grandparent, you can petition the court to accomplish both goals in the same action. Fla. Stat. 63.087(3). While there is still a very high threshold necessary to terminate a biological parent’s rights to their child (i.e. abuse, abandonment, neglect), Florida law makes the court process for grandparents a little simpler.
If you are a grandparent faced with some of these circumstances, you may be able to benefit from one of the statutes discussed above. If you want additional information on how these statutes might be able to assist you, please contact Nelson Koster.