With increasing frequency, many grandparents today have taken to petitioning the courts for visitation of their grandchild or grandchildren. An example of one such case arose out of neighboring Alabama. In ERG v. EHG, 73 So.3d 614 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010), the grandparents of two young girls petitioned the court for visitation of their grandchildren after their parents cut off ties with them. The grandparents had maintained a close relationship with the grandchildren until a business dispute caused the girl’s parents, who are married and live together with their children, to terminate further relations with the grandparents. The court faced the question of whether the parents in this instance had the parental right to deny the grandparents the opportunity to visit with their children. The district court sided with the grandparents and awarded generous visitation. The parents appealed, and the decision of the trial court was reversed.
The case went all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court—where the court not only denied visitation to the grandparents but struck down Alabama’s entire Grandparents Visitation Act, finding that a parent’s right to raise their children may not be undercut by a judge unless the parents are deemed unfit. The grandparents filed a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping the Court would be willing to revisit the issue of grandparent’s rights since its last ruling over 10 years ago. The Supreme Court, however, declined to hear the case.
Currently, all 50 states have some form of grandparent’s visitation laws. Among them, 18 states require some sort of showing that the parents of the grandchildren are unfit in order for the grandparents to be granted visitation and/or custody. 19 states take a more flexible approach, holding that there is a presumption in favor of the parent’s decision, but if the grandparents can show it is in their grandchildren’s best interests that they be awarded visitation, the court will consider doing so.
In Mississippi, grandparents can be awarded visitation under a limited set of circumstances. The first instance is where the grandparent’s child has not been awarded custody or the grandparent’s child has had his/her parental rights terminated. In this instance, the grandparent may have a viable case for visitation. Secondly, a grandparent may receive visitation of a grandchild in Mississippi if their child is deceased. If both parents are alive and married and/or share joint custody, a grandparent may still be able to seek visitation. The grandparent would have to prove they had a viable relationship with the grandchild and visitation would be in the grandchild’s best interest. To establish the existence of a viable relationship, the grandparent must show they supported the grandchild in whole or in part for at least six months and they had frequent visits with the child, including overnight visits for at least one year.
In sum, it is possible for grandparents to be awarded visitation of their grandchild or grandchildren, but it will require a skilled family law attorney and extensive evidence in the grandparent’s favor. While Mississippi courts, like all courts, favors the decision of the parents as to their child’s upbringing, there have been several instances in which Mississippi courts have been inclined to order grandparent’s visitation. These courts ultimately look to what is in the best interests of the child.
If you are a grandparent who had a previously strong relationship with your grandchild and are now being denied visitation, Matthew S. Poole can help. Matthew has extensive knowledge of the most current grandparent’s rights laws and will fight for you to obtain the precious time with your grandchildren that you so desire. Call Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 to obtain a case evaluation.