Unfortunately, parents sometime use their children as pawns to manipulate others and get what they want or to simply feel a sense of control. With the majority of my practice devoted to estate planning and family law, I see this all-too-often. Grandparents whose children have estranged them from their grandchildren often struggle with deciding how to leave their inheritance. They generally still love their estranged family, but if their adult child has intentionally and consistently denied grandparent visitation with the minor grandchildren, grandparents are left to sort through a great deal of emotional pain and conflicting thoughts. Even more common are my family law cases where a child’s parents have divorced, and one or both parents instantaneously seek to drive a fork in the road between the child’s relationship not only with the other parent, but the other parent’s extended family.
Absent good cause, this behavior is selfish, wrong, and all-together disregards the best interests of the minor child who should not be put in the middle. Despite the numerous studies and hard facts evidencing the emotional damage this causes minor children, it happens enough that laws exist to help correct it. Divorced parents may be found in contempt of Court, lose primary care of their children, or incur other damages for unreasonably alienating a child’s relationship with his/her parent. Likewise, while it does not get as much publicity, laws do exist to protect and enforce grandparent and great-grandparent visitation with minor grandchildren.
Of the three states in which I practice, South Dakota is the most “grandparent-friendly” state. Grandparents in South Dakota may be granted reasonable rights of visitation with their grandchild if the Court finds such visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild and either: (a) the visitation will not significantly interfere with the parent-child relationship; or (b) the parent of the grandchild has denied or prevented the grandparent reasonable opportunities to visit the grandchild.
Nebraska law increases the burden of proof for grandparents a bit, but still allows a grandparent to seek visitation with a minor grandchild if: (a) the child’s parent is deceased; (b) the child’s parents are divorced or in the process of divorcing; or © the child’s parents have never married but paternity has been established. In determining whether the grandparent should be granted visitation, Nebraska Courts will look to find that a significant beneficial relationship exists or has existed in the past between the grandparent and the child; it would be in the best interests of the child to allow the relationship to continue; and the grandparent’s visitation will not adversely interfere with the parent-child relationship.
Grandparents seeking visitation rights in Iowa have the biggest uphill battle, as the law requires the grandparent attack the fitness of the child’s parents. Specifically, an Iowa Court must find by clear and convincing evidence: (a) the grandparent established a substantial relationship with the child prior to the filing of the petition; (b) the child’s parents are unfit to make the decision regarding visitation; and © it is in the best interest of the child to grant such visitation.
Every state and the facts of every case are different. However, the common thread in all three states and in every case, is that the child’s best interest is the driving force. While in theory I have good job security because adults continue to be selfish and put their own agendas ahead of their minor children, I’d give that up in a heartbeat if more people would put their stubbornness aside and let kids be kids. Until then, I’ll continue advocating zealously for the best interest of children.
The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely on any information herein.