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THE BLUE JEAN LAWYER: Grandparents’ Visitation Rights

by J. Tyler Cox (with Jonathan Barlow)

The relationship between a child and his/her grandparents is one that can never be replaced or reproduced. There are times when the only confidant and friend that a child has who understands their problems at home are their grandparents. In most grandparents’ eyes, their grandchild is a culmination of their life’s work and, more importantly, their own legacy. This bond that grandparents and their grandchildren share can be immeasurable, and the grandparent’s rights to see and be an active force in their grandchild’s life is vastly important. The state of Mississippi has acknowledged the importance, and when the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is vital to the best interests of that child, courts have decided that the relationship should not be interrupted.

In circumstances where a parent has either passed away, has not been awarded custody in a divorce, has had their parental rights terminated, or has been found to be unfit, the law allows the grandparent of a child to petition the court for visitation rights. For a court to award those rights to a grandparent, the grandparent must be able to show that they and the minor child have a viable relationship. It must also be shown that a parent has unreasonably denied their visitation with the child, and that the grandparents’ visitation rights with the minor child are in the best interests of that child.

On its face, the phrase “viable relationship” is ambiguous at best. However, this phrase is defined statutorily as a level of financial support of the minor child by the grandparent for more than 6 months, with the grandparent having had frequent visitation for at least a year, or the grandparents caring for the minor child for a significant period with the parent absent from the home, which can include military duty and incarceration. This gives grandparents several ways to prove a viable relationship with the child that could potentially be enough for a court to grant to visitation rights.

The Supreme Court has set forth many factors for the chancery courts to weigh in cases where grandparents have petitioned for visitation rights. These factors include the ability of the grandparents to provide the level of supervision that the child would need, the age of both the child and grandparents, the grandparents’ physical and mental capabilities, the strength of the emotional bonds between the grandparents and the child…just to name a few. These factors are all weighed equally by a chancellor, with none being more important than the other.

It is sometimes not easy to prove the strength of a relationship in a courtroom. A grandchild’s testimony about the relationship is more often than not a major key in certain situations when the child is old enough to testify. Grandparents’ visitation rights are full of gray areas and can be stressful to navigate without an attorney. Our office is more than equipped to handle those gray areas and we are more than happy to help relieve the stress that comes with this process. If you are a grandparent and are having issues with your visitation rights, please contact our office with any questions you may have.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel to reach us at (228)224-6781 or editor@thegazebogazette.com who will direct this to us.  Thank y’all for reading and letting us know.

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