Grandparents play a key role in a child’s life. A grandparent can be a trusted source of love, support, wisdom, and guidance. In fact, in some families, grandparents take over for a parent who passes away or is deemed unfit under the law. In New Jersey, grandparents can seek visitation and even child custody of grandchildren if the courts believe it is in the best interests of the child.
Why Grandparents Lose Visitation
Parents in New Jersey have the right to make decisions about the care and welfare of their minor children, including allowing visits with grandparents. However, when a parent dies or becomes unfit because of drug use, abuse, or criminal activity, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren are often severed as the family dynamic breaks down. The same is true when a couple separates or divorces. If the split is acrimonious, one or both partners may alienate their children from seeing their ex’ partners parents.
What if a Grandparent is Concerned About the Child’s Safety?
It is not uncommon for a grandparent to have some reservations about the way their grandchildren are being raised. Everyone has their own parenting philosophy, but some situations are more extreme or dangerous.
The grandparent may have genuine concerns about their grandchild’s emotional or physical health and safety in a home where a parent is using drugs, engaging in criminal activity, or abusing the child in some way. A grandparent can try to intervene and petition the court for physical custody of an at-risk grandchild.
How to Apply for Grandparent Visitation or Custody in New Jersey
Getting custody of a grandchild is not an easy feat because doing so essentially strips the biological parents of their rights to make decisions for their children. However, not every person is emotionally, physically, or financially capable of being a safe and effective parent. Third-party custody is a critical safety net for children who are not receiving the care they need and deserve. Important steps to take to gain child custody are listed below.
Contact a Lawyer
Anyone seeking grandparent visitation or custody of a minor grandchild should first schedule a consultation with a trusted lawyer. This initial case review is a chance for the child custody lawyer to learn more about the family situation and the grandparents’ concerns to determine if a case for visitation or custody makes sense based on the facts. As always, the child’s best interests are always the top priority.
The courts do not take custody transfers lightly, especially when it involves stripping rights from the biological parents. Grandparents and other third-party petitioners have to meet a remarkably high threshold to prove why they should have visitation or take over custody of a grandchild.
Evidence is essential for any grandparent visitation or custody case. First, they need to show why their relationship with a grandchild is in the minor’s best interests. In terms of visitation, it is helpful to show that the children have spent a significant amount of time with the grandparents over the course of their life and that the grandparents provided emotional and financial support. Grandparents also need to show that denying visitation would cause harm to the child, based on the bond created to this point.
Custody cases are more complex. Grandparents need to show that both parents are unfit. Evidence can be police records, drug tests, medical records, and previous court cases. The child custody lawyer may enlist a licensed psychologist to talk about the child’s mental health and how it has been impacted by a parent’s choices.
File a Petition
Once the facts and evidence are gathered, it is time to file a petition with the court. This generally happens in the court where the child resides, or in the court that is determining visitation and custody orders for the child. The grandparent should be prepared to show the court that they are in good health and financially able to care for the child. The court reviews all of the details surrounding the case to make a determination.
What Factors Impact a Decision?
The court looks at a host of different factors to determine if grandparent visitation or custody is best for the child. A court wants to know the following:
- Is the grandparent actively involved in the child’s life?
- Is the grandparent mentally and physically able to care for the child?
- Does the grandparent have a good relationship with each biological parent?
- Has the grandparent provided any financial support for the child to this point?
- Has the child lived with the grandparent for six months or more?
- If the grandparent does not see the child, will the child be harmed physically or emotionally?
- Is there anything to suggest the child will be in danger in the grandparent’s care?
What is a Psychological Parent?
In New Jersey, the concept of psychological parenthood is recognized. This comes into play when a biological parent contests a custody transfer to a grandparent or another third party. Generally, the presumption is always in favor of the parent, but that presumption can be overcome if the third party shows they are a psychological parent.
New Jersey has a four-part evaluation to determine if a third party is a psychological parent:
- The petitioner and the child reside in the same home.
- The biological parent assisted and consented to the parental relationship between the petitioner and the child.
- The petitioner assumed all the duties of child care, including providing financial support without expectation of repayment.
- The petitioner has formed a dependent, bonded relationship that is parental in nature.
Restrictive Visitation Statutes
New Jersey is one of the more permissive states in terms of grandparent rights, meaning that if a grandparent can show visitation or custody with them is in the child’s best interests, the court will consider it. Other states are far less open to third-party intervention.
Many states have restricted visitation statutes. They only allow grandparents to seek court-ordered visitation if the child’s parents are separated or divorced or if both parents have died. Even in these cases, the grandparent must prove visitation with them is best for the child’s mental and physical well-being.
Where can I Learn More About My Rights as a Grandparent?
Any grandparent with questions about their rights should contact a lawyer who is skilled at resolving complex child custody and visitation matters. Several organizations also offer invaluable resources and support for grandparents dealing with family law matters in New Jersey and across the United States.
For some children, grandparents are a beloved source of guidance, love, and support. It is important to support the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, even after a divorce happens.
For other children, grandparents are an essential lifeline out of an abusive or neglectful home. When parents are deceased, unfit, or unwilling to parent, children benefit when a loving grandparent steps in to assume parenting duties. However, the path to gaining visitation or custody is not easy for grandparents. The legal counsel of an experienced lawyer is essential in complex legal matters involving children.
Morristown Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Grandparents Seeking Custody of Grandchildren
Being a grandparent is a rewarding experience, and when divorce severs a grandparent-grandchild bond, the loss can be overwhelming. The Morristown child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. understand the crucial role that grandparents play in a child’s life, and we will fight for your rights. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.