When spouses with children decide to separate or divorce, custody of the children must be determined. Generally, the focus is deciding custody between the two parents. However, grandparents may also wish to assert rights to have access to their grandchildren. Whether a grandparent is entitled to receive custody or visitation rights will depend upon the circumstances.
What are grandparent rights for custody and/or visitation in Virginia?
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the court gives “due regard” to the importance of the relationship between parent and child. Generally, this due regard means that parents have the right to determine who their children do and do not see. Virginia law does not specifically provide for the rights of grandparents or guarantee any type of custodial access to grandparents. However, Virginia’s child custody laws provide persons with a “legitimate interest” the right to petition for custody or visitation.
Can grandparents obtain custodial rights?
Just because a grandparent can petition the court for visitation or custody, however, does not mean that the grandparent is likely to prevail. Virginia views the right of the parent over the child as a right of paramount importance. Therefore, absent parental consent, Virginia courts will not award grandparents custodial rights unless there is clear and convincing evidence that a denial of custody/visitation would cause actual harm to the child.
How can grandparent rights be protected?
The best way to protect the rights of grandparents is to address those rights in an initial custody agreement between the parents. For instance, if the two spouses are negotiating a child custody arrangement on their own outside of court, each can insist that the agreement make provisions for the child to have some required time with the grandparents. This clause in a custody agreement may provide invaluable protection to a grandparent who might otherwise lose access to a child entirely if something happened to the parent.
Getting legal help
Our attorneys have successfully represented both grandparents and parents in grandparent custody cases.or assistance in a custody dispute between parent and grandparent, contact the experienced Virginia divorce attorneys at Nichols Zauzig today. With three convenient locations in Woodbridge, Manassas and Stafford, we are available to clients throughout Northern Virginia.