Under certain circumstances, such as death or divorce, a custodial parent may choose to limit or terminate a child’s visitation with a set of grandparents or other relative. Understandably, those relatives may have a strong desire to maintain a relationship with the child and may wonder what their legal rights may be in this situation. Though gaining visitation over a parent’s objection may be difficult, it is not always impossible, and an experienced family law attorney can evaluate your situation and advise you of your legal options.
§ 20-124.2 of the Virginia Code sets out the law for custody and visitation determinations of minor children. The law states the court must respect the parent-child relationship as the primary relationship, and in most cases should trust the parent’s judgment in making good decisions for the child. However, the law also gives “any other person with a legitimate interest” the opportunity to bring evidence that visitation with them would be in the child’s best interest.
Though the law does not specifically list all potential persons with a legitimate interest, however such persons may include:
- Former stepparents
- Adult siblings
- Aunts or uncles
- Other blood relatives or family members
If one of the above parties has been cut off from the child, they must present “clear and convincing” evidence that visitation with them would be good for the child. Clear and convincing means that the person seeking visitation must show it is highly and substantially more likely to be true that visitation would serve the best interest of the child. For example, if a grandparent had a very close relationship or care-giving role in the child’s life, suddenly preventing visitation may be emotionally harmful for the child. Also, if the relative can provide evidence that the parent is somehow causing harm to the child, the court will usually make an exception and intervene.
While gaining visitation over a parent’s wishes may be a difficult task, Virginia courts have and do award visitation rights to grandparents and other close family members under some circumstances. Your first step in trying to attain visitation rights should always be to call the Law Offices of Raymond B. Benzinger at (703) 312-0410 for help. Mr. Benzinger has extensive experience in visitation cases and other family law matters and can help you with your case.