Gone are the days when it was simply expected that children would be raised in traditional nuclear families. In today's world it is quite common for children to not only be raised in single parent households, but also by their grandparents. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau a staggering 2.7 million grandparents had grandchildren living with them under the age of 18 in 2010.
But, even in instances in which grandparents are the primary caregivers to grandchildren, they often have limited rights to custody and visitation in many states. Similarly, grandparents routinely have to deal with limited access to grandchildren if their child gets divorced and is not granted primary custody of the grandchildren - especially if the other custodial parent makes it difficult for the grandparents to see the grandchildren. Fortunately however, here in Missouri there are laws that protect the visitation rights of grandparents.
Grandparent rights in Missouri
Under Missouri law, a grandparent may seek visitation rights with a grandchild in a variety of circumstances, including:
- When the child in question has lived with his or her grandparent for at least six months within the 24 months before the grandparent files a petition seeking visitation
- When a grandparent has been "unreasonably denied" visitation with the child for more than 90 days - unless the parents of the child are still married and living with the child, in which case the grandparent cannot file a petition for visitation
- When the parents of the child file for divorce, a grandparent can intervene for the sole purpose of seeking visitation rights
- When one parent of the child dies, and the other parent denies the grandparent "reasonable visitation," a grandparent can seek visitation rights from the court
Interestingly, it is not a prerequisite under Missouri law for the parents of a child to be married in order for the grandparents to petition for visitation rights. For instance, grandparents can still seek visitation if their son - the putative father of the child - is not married to the child's mother or has never developed a relationship with the child.
It is important to note, however, that grandparents do not have an automatic right to grandchild visitation - unlike noncustodial parents. For instance, grandparents must proactively seek intervention, and they bear the burden of proving that it is in the best interests of the grandchild for the court to grant them visitation rights.
Consequently, if you are a grandparent and are currently seeking to establish visitation rights with your grandchild, it is often advisable to speak with an experienced grandparent rights attorney to learn what your rights and options may be given your circumstances.