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The short of it is: Grandparents have no rights to custody in Florida when the natural parents are available. And grandparents have no visitation rights Florida if the parents do not cooperate. With that said, there are alternatives to gain some sort of rights. There is a special type of court in Florida called Dependency Court. Dependency Court is where unfit parents and their children end up. The court has the authority to impose monitoring, services, and counseling. More important, the court has the authority to temporarily place children with relatives, including grandparents. If the parents are unfit for some reason, and will not cooperate, dependency court is the direction to turn to.
- Do grandparents have rights to visitation?
- Can my parents take away my children or get the Department of Children and Families involved?
- What happens if my parents were taking care of the kids but now I don’t want them to?
These and many other questions will occasionally come up during a consultation. Parents routinely allow their parents to watch the children while they are at work. Or in some cases, parents are too young or otherwise unable to properly care for the minor children and grandparents step up to the plate. But what happens to grandparents when the parents get a divorce? Or what do you do when you no longer want your ex-spouse’s parents to visit with your children for a number of reasons?
The Florida Statutes address some of these concerns in Chapter 752, which is titled Grandparental Visitation Rights. A great-grandparent will fall under the term “grandparent” for purposes of this chapter. When a grandparent files a petition for visitation with a minor child, the court will review the petition, take testimony and make a determination based a number of factors.
The court shall award reasonable rights of visitation to the grandparent with respect to the child when it is in the best interest of the minor child if:
- (a) The marriage of the parents of the child has been dissolved; (DIVORCE)
- (b) A parent of the child has deserted the child; (ABANDONMENT) OR
- (c) The minor child was born out of wedlock and not later determined to be a child born within wedlock as provided in s. 742.091. (PARENTS ARE NOT MARRIED).
In determining the best interest of the minor child, the court shall consider:
- (a) The willingness of the grandparent or grandparents to encourage a close relationship between the child and the parent or parents.
- (b) The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the grandparent or grandparents.
- (c) The preference of the child if the child is determined to be of sufficient maturity to express a preference.
- (d) The mental and physical health of the child.
- (e) The mental and physical health of the grandparent or grandparents.
- (f) Such other factors as are necessary in the particular circumstances.
What does all that mean?
Notice the statute does not say MAY but rather uses the phrase SHALL. This means that it is in the courts discretion to make a determination of best interest of the minor child and put those findings of fact on the record. The court would much rather this dispute be resolved within the family and if that is not possible, the parties must participate in a formal or informal mediation. Remember that the notice of filing and a copy of the petition for grandparental visitation rights must be served on the parents of the minor child in the matter.
This statute does NOT address whether or not the parent’s rights will be terminated. Rather, this statute is specifically for grandparents who previously had a close relationship with their grandchild(ren) and then that visitation was suddenly denied by the parents of the minor child(ren). The legislature wanted to ensure that when there are family members that are involved in the children’s lives that these family members are able to continue this relationship regardless of the parents’ divorce, abandonment or marital status. If a grandparent contacts the Department of Children and Families relating to the way a parent is raising their child – that is a separate family law matter that is not addressed in Chapter 752.
Cheri Hobbs, Esq. (Cheri Blanchette, Esq.)