As a grandparent, you may feel that your rights to your grandchildren should mirror that of a parent; after all, you were the parent to your grandchildren’s mother or father. Maine, however, does not see it that way, and its statute is very clear about the legal rights of a grandparent. In any family-matter dispute, the state takes the best interests and needs of the children into consideration first, and the fact that you’re a grandparent will not automatically award you rights with your grandchildren. If your son or daughter has precluded you from seeing your grandchildren, you might be able to ask the court to award you visitation rights but only in very specific circumstances.
But I’m the Grandparent!
Biologically, this is a “no-brainer,” but legally being a grandparent does not automatically give you the right to see your grandchildren. In November of 2002, the Maine Supreme Court concluded and officially ruled that it is not the court’s place to interfere with a parental decision to preclude their children from seeing their grandparents. Consequently, in order for the judicial system to become involved, there must be what the court calls an “urgent reason” for it to award the grandparent visitation rights against the parents’ wishes. Just because you love your grandchildren and your grandchildren love you, it does not mean that their parents must allow you to see them. So, what can you do?
Talk With the Parents
Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, you should first attempt to work out whatever issues are precluding you from seeing your grandchildren directly with their parents. This does not mean, however, that you have to go it alone. You have the right to secure family and/or legal counseling and/or a mediator or arbitrator in an effort to come to a visitation agreement. Your grandchildren’s parents have the right to engage in the process or refuse to cooperate. Either way, document your good faith effort in resolving this matter prior to approaching the court, whether you go it alone or enlist help, because you will need this to proceed.
Assess Your Qualifications
If you cannot work out a resolution with the parents of your grandchildren, you may have a right to request an award of “reasonable rights of visitation or access” from the court, but you must meet certain criteria. If you only spend nominal time with your grandchildren, the court will not award your request for visitation rights. The court does not consider normal intermittent contact between grandparents and their grandchildren enough time to warrant a request for formal visitation. The court will consider a request, however, if:
One of your grandchildren’s parents or legal guardian has passed away;
You have acted in the capacity of a parent to your grandchildren or have otherwise developed what the court considers a “sufficient existing relationship”;
You have made a significant effort to build a “sufficient existing relationship” with your grandchildren.
If you meet any these criteria, you may file a petition with the court requesting grandparent visitation rights to see your grandchildren.
Filing the Petition
You must file your petition with the district court where your grandchildren live if they reside in a different district from you, and you can do this by mail if necessary. During this step, you will be required to file an affidavit demonstrating either your sufficient existing relationship or your efforts to establish a relationship with your grandchildren. Your efforts to resolve this matter with the parents will be extremely helpful during this step. Upon signing your petition, you are confirming that you meet Maine’s legal standard of “sufficient” relationship or efforts, so make certain that you do.
One of your grandchildren’s parents must be served with copies of your petition, and they will have the right to contest your petition and file their own affidavits, with which they are required to copy you. A judge will review your paperwork to confirm that you meet the legal requirements and, indeed, have either established or made an acceptable effort to establish a sufficient relationship with your grandchildren. If you have, he or she will order mediation or a court hearing.
These rights apply to you even if your grandchildren are adopted. The only time your rights as a grandparent would change would be if someone else adopted your grandchildren. You also have the right to request to be present during any child protection proceeding of your grandchildren, and you will be included in the hearings if the court deems it appropriate.
Enforcing a legal right to see your grandchildren is an extremely complicated process. You will have much to prove in order to be heard. The Law Office of William T. Bly has over 10 years of dedicated focus on family law, and we understand the need for grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren.
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