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Are Grandparents' Rights A Real Thing? Here's What You Need To Know

Use this guide to understand the legalities.

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Grandparent's rights
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The relationship between a grandparent and their grandchild can be a beautiful thing. But unfortunately, there are situations in life where grandparents can’t see their grandchildren. Sometimes, this is because it’s not in the best interest of the child, and other times, it’s due to strained or complex relationships between adult children and their parents. No matter what the circumstances are, both grandparents and parents may have questions about grandparents’ rights.

While it’s hard for grandparents to hear, it’s rare for a grandparent to have a legal right to see their grandchild, no matter how much they may love the little one. In the few states where grandparents’ rights laws have been enacted in the past (like Hawaii), they have largely been ruled unconstitutional. Additionally, there are no federal laws on the subject since it is a matter of family law, which varies from state to state.

In most cases, it makes sense for parental rights to be preserved above all else. After all, fit parents have every right to decide who gets to be around their children — even when the person in question is a biological relative. As long as a child isn’t in a dangerous or unhealthy living environment, the courts are highly unlikely to intervene on behalf of a grandparent.

However, some situations are more complicated. In the case of a parent being declared unfit, a messy divorce, or the death of an adult child, grandparents may decide to petition for visitation or even custody, despite the odds being stacked against them. In these cases, here’s what you need to know about grandparents’ rights.

Do grandparents have a legal right to see their grandkids?

In short, no, grandparents do not have a legal right to see their grandchildren in any of the 50 states. The law is built to protect parental rights above all else, and automatically granting grandparents visitation rights is seen as a violation of a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their child. But as stated above, there are certain circumstances where a grandparent can petition the court to be granted visitation or custody of their grandchildren.

Generally, if a child is removed from their home by child protective services, extended family members will be contacted and given a chance to become the child’s foster parents or guardian. But even in this situation, grandparents have to go through the same process as any other foster parents would. In other words, even if your adult child is declared unfit, rights to your grandchild won’t automatically be granted to you.

Most states also prohibit grandparents from petitioning for visitation rights if a family is “intact,” meaning the children are living in a two-parent home. If your adult child is going through a divorce, deceased, or otherwise incapacitated, then the law is slightly more lenient. In these cases, grandparents can petition the court in most states, although it’s often a lengthy and expensive process. (It should also be noted that if a child is adopted, grandparents’ rights are terminated in most states, with a few exceptions being made for instances where a stepparent adopts the child.)

What states have grandparents’ rights?

As stated above, no states have grandparents’ rights that automatically grant a grandparent visitation. Still, that doesn’t mean grandparents have no legal avenues to pursue in order to see their grandchildren. For a complete rundown of the nuanced state-by-state laws, visit

How do I deal with not seeing my grandchild?

Being separated from your grandchild can be heartbreaking, especially if you have developed a strong bond with them. If your adult child is denying you visitation due to a personal estrangement or fight, then the best thing you can do is reach out to them. While it’s not always possible to repair a parent-child bond once it’s broken, it is well worth the effort if it means maintaining a relationship with your grandchildren.

If repairing the relationship isn’t possible, then you may want to try mediation before taking legal action. If your adult child and their partner are fit parents, and you have demonstrated that you are a positive influence on your grandchild, then you may be able to reach a visitation agreement without involving courts or lawyers. Parents usually want what’s best for their child, and if they know you have a strong, healthy, and loving bond with your grandchild then they may be open to working out an arrangement — even if it’s something as simple as allowing you to exchange letters with your grandchildren.

Sadly, there will be times when an agreement simply can’t be reached. If you find yourself in this situation, then try joining a support group to speak with other grandparents dealing with similar situations. Family matters are complex and always evolving, so if you’re in a situation where you’re not allowed to see your grandchildren right now, don’t lose hope. In time, your situation may change, but for now, it may help to know you’re not alone.

List of Boundaries for Grandparents

Family is complicated, and if you’re trying to mend a relationship with your child and grandchildren, it can be tricky. Here are few things to keep in mind as a grandparent to help smooth things over.

  • Do not disregard the parents’ rules. If the child’s parent has specific guidelines for them, make sure you follow them. It shows respect and prevents arguments.
  • Avoid requesting more grandchildren. It may seem cute, or just one of those silly things grandparents say, but you never know what parents are dealing with when it comes to conceiving. It’s best not to mention it.
  • Do not negatively compare your kids to your grandkids. You don’t want to make your children feel inferior, and you may strike a nerve.
  • Avoid cutting or changing your grandchild’s hair. Even a trim or change in hairstyle can make a parent upset. Always ask the parents before making those kinds of changes. For some, a child’s hair is something parents prefer to manage and upkeep. Simple maintenance, like brushing or washing, isn’t usually that big of a deal, but cutting off hair or taking out braids may be an issue. To be safe, always check in.

What states do not allow grandparents’ rights?

Grandparents’ rights are not an option in every state. In some states, they do not have the right to take in grandchildren that need to be adopted. States that do not enforce the grandparent law include Arkansas, Delaware, Wisconsin, Virginia, Rhode Island, Maine, and Hawaii. But some states, like Maine and Connecticut, have accommodating policies for grandparents that permit visitation.

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