“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” Alex Haley
In the contentious world of parents fighting over who will “get custody” of their children, sometimes the child’s grandparents feel left out. That special bond that they have with their grandchildren may be a casualty of the fights between the child’s parents. Fortunately, Colorado law gives grandparents (and great-grandparents) a legal process to make sure they can be a part of the lives of their grandchildren—even if the children’s parents are fighting through a bitter divorce.
Under Colorado statutory law, a grandparent or great-grandparent may obtain a court order granting reasonable visitation rights of their grandchild or great-grandchild when any legal proceeding might impact the custody of the child or affect related parenting responsibilities. Although the statute does not go so far as to allow grandparents to start their own legal proceeding to ask for a court order for their visitation with their grandchild, the law does give grandparents and great-grandparents a voice in court for grandparent visitation in many legal proceedings involving their grandchildren.
Grandparents and great-grandparents can intervene in the following types of court proceedings involving their grandchildren:
- Marital dissolution (divorce) actions, or actions for legal separation
- Actions for termination of parental rights (e.g. child neglect cases), where legal custody has been given to someone other than the child’s parent
- When the child of the grandparent (the parent of the child) has died
On the other hand, grandparents and great-grandparents do not have any rights to intervene in adoption proceedings to insist on grandparent visitation after the child has been adopted out of the grandparents’ family. The grandparents’ rights to visitation automatically terminate upon completion of adoption, regardless of whether the adoption is by strangers or a natural relative since, legally, they are no longer “grandparents” of the child.
Anyone seeking grandchild or great-grandchild visitation rights must submit a “motion for visitation” to the court where the child lives, together with an affidavit providing facts in support of the request for the visitation order. The person who has custody may oppose the request with a sworn affidavit in support of their opposition. Since visitation is primarily a right of the child, and only secondarily a right of the visiting party, at all times during the proceedings the court will look to the child's best interests. The court may decide the matter without a hearing or, if it benefits the child, may order a hearing to explore all sides’ positions. Even if the request is not opposed, the court will enter an order authorizing grandparent visitation only if it is in the best interest of the child.
If the custodial parent opposes the grandparent’s request for visitation, the court will give great deference to that parent’s position. The court will presume that the parent’s position is in the child’s best interests unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence that denying the grandparent’s visitation rights is not in the child’s best interest. If the request for a court order of grandparent visitation is denied by the court, the same request cannot be made again for two years, absent a showing of good cause.
Finally, the court can enter an order terminating grandparent visitation whenever such order would serve the child's best interests.
Cases involving visitation rights of grandparents can be complex. If the family is fighting over everything in a divorce proceeding, the grandparents have the opportunity to offer stability and refuge from a turbulent home situation. Consultation with experienced family law attorneys such as those at Clawson & Clawson LLP will provide grandparents with a full understanding of their rights in these difficult situations. Our attorneys offer compassionate assistance to grandparents as they navigate the court system to provide them with the best options of continuing their relationship with their precious grandchildren.