Haven't we all heard the popular quip from grandparents? "The best thing about being a grandparent is that you get to send the children home with their parents at the end of the day." But, we all know that most grandparents love their grandchildren dearly and, given our busy and hectic schedules, grandparents cherish the limited time they get to spend together with their grandchildren. Children also benefit greatly from time spent in visitation with their grandparents. Unfortunately, in the past, grandparents did not have much say over what happened to their grandchildren when their son's or daughter's families broke up. Due to family breakups or other circumstances, grandparents were, and sometimes still are, deprived of seeing their grandchildren.
Fortunately, in Maryland and in many other states, the legislatures have taken some affirmative action to assist grandparents in gaining rights to visitation with their grandchildren. Sometimes referred to as the "Grandparent Rights Act," the Maryland legislature granted jurisdiction to state courts to consider a petition for reasonable visitation of a grandchild by a grandparent. What grandparents must be aware of however, is that rights of visitation will not simply be automatically granted to them upon their filing of a petition with the courts. As in other family matters dealing with children, the courts take very seriously their responsibility to make findings and rulings that are in the best interests of the children.
In a case heard by the highest appellate court in Maryland, the court stated that:
Granting visitation to grandparents is dependent upon the grandchild's best interest; a visitation award is not granted for the grandparents' gratification or enjoyment, but to fulfill the needs of the child, and thus the court must focus exclusively on the welfare and prospects of the child.
While the court stated that all relevant factors and circumstances should be considered in assessing what will serve the child's best interest, it set forth the following criteria to be considered with regard to grandparent visitation:
- The child's relationship with its parents
- The nature and substantiality of the child's relationship with its grandparent
- The potential benefits and detriments to the child in granting the visitation order
- The effect, if any, that the visitation would have on the child's nuclear family
- The physical and emotional health of the adults involved; and
- The stability of the child's living and schooling arrangements
In summary, gaining rights to visitation is far from a "slam dunk" for grandparents, but can become a reality now with changes in the laws and more and more grandparents standing up to assert their rights to request visitation from the courts.