Understanding grandparents’ rights in the context of family law is crucial. Massachusetts law (MGL Chapter 119 §39D) enables grandparents to secure court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren, given they can show “good cause” or a “compelling reason.” Not only do grandparents provide emotional and financial support, but they also hold legal standing for visitation rights. However, securing these rights requires proving that lack of visitation would adversely affect the child’s well-being, as outlined in the case Blixt v. Blixt 437 Mass. 649 (2002).
Legal Landscape in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, grandparents can petition for visitation under various conditions:
- The parents have divorced.
- The parents are married but living apart with a separation court order.
- One or both parents are deceased.
- The parents were never married but live apart, with legal proof identifying the child’s father.
Moreover, the court may grant visitation rights if grandparents can demonstrate:
- The grandchild’s best interest is at stake.
- They had a pre-existing meaningful relationship with the grandchild.
- The absence of visitation would severely harm the grandchild’s health, safety, or welfare.
Grounds for Petitioning Grandparents’ Rights
Divorce or separation allows grandparents to legally seek reasonable visitation with their grandchildren. When parents are unfit, custody may even pass to the grandparents. In the event of a parent’s death, grandparents also have the right to request visitation. Existing relationships with grandchildren can further bolster a grandparent’s case, as referenced in Frazier v. Frazier, 96 Mass. App. Ct 775 (2019).
Types of Rights Available
Grandparents have options beyond visitation. They can petition for full custody if, for instance, the child’s parents are deceased. If planning to care for a grandchild long-term, legal guardianship becomes an option.
Filing a petition for grandparents’ rights initiates the legal process. Once you file, a sheriff or constable serves the parents with a summons and a copy of the petition. The court then schedules a case management conference and notifies all parties. The judge’s decision will hinge on the evidence presented.
Potential Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Securing visitation rights is not without challenges. Parents generally hold the primary right to decide who visits their child. However, if visitation serves the child’s best interest and refusal would cause harm, the court can intervene. So, understand the legal grounds on which a court may deny visitation and plan accordingly.
Grandparents must be well-informed of their legal rights and potential challenges when seeking visitation. Legal assistance can guide you through the complexities of the system. At Reeves Lavallee, P.C., we specialize in advocating for grandparents and offer expert, compassionate legal services.
Call to Action
If you’re considering pursuing grandparents’ rights, consulting an experienced family law attorney is essential. Contact Reeves Lavallee, P.C. today for a free 30-minute consultation with one of our specialized family law attorneys.
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