Grandparents’ Rights in California

Generally, grandparents do not have “rights” to their grandchildren. There are limited circumstances in which grandparents may be able to get rights, but those are reserved for specific situations such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, and similar instances. Let’s explore this further. 

Do grandparents have rights to grandchildren in California?

Under the California family code, courts may grant visitation rights to grandparents in limited situations. Generally, the child's parents have sole discretion to determine whether grandparents get to see their child.

However, suppose a grandparent can show they have an existing relationship with the child and that the continuance of that relationship is in the child's best interest. In that case, courts may grant visitation rights to grandparents, even if a parent disagrees. This is a high bar, however, and grandparents should be ready with solid evidence. Grandparents may also seek visitation with grandchildren if the child's parents aren't married or are more than temporarily separated from one another.

Essentially, California courts are always looking at what is in the child's best interest. If a relationship with a grandparent qualifies, a court will likely grant visitation rights.

FAQ about grandparents’ rights in California

My grandchild’s parents got divorced. Who can help me get visitation rights?

One of California's grounds for granting visitation rights to a grandparent is when the child's parents divorce. The idea here is that a grandparent can help stabilize the child's life during an otherwise traumatic period.

A common way for grandparents to seek visitation rights is through a family mediator. A family mediator is a neutral third party who can help mediate the dispute between grandparents and parents. This is an especially useful idea when parents and grandparents disagree about the amount of visitation or whether a grandparent should even have visitation rights at all.

Look for a family mediator experienced in these types of disputes. If you can reach an agreement, it will likely be faster, cheaper, and less contentious than going to court. Just make sure you follow the rules as negotiated and laid out in your agreement. If you violate the terms, a court could take away your visitation rights.

Can I sue for visitation rights?

Yes. Grandparents in California may sue for visitation rights if they can show their relationship with the child serves the child’s best interests. A grandparent must also show that there are no legal reasons why they should not be granted visitation rights, such as a restraining order or parental rights termination.

You should have solid evidence to back up your claim. An experienced family law attorney can help assess your case and determine the best course of action. If a court finds in favor of the grandparent, they may be granted visitation rights with their grandchild.

Regardless of the outcome, it's important for grandparents to note that visitation rights are not absolute. The parent still has ultimate control over the child, so any decisions regarding visitation must be approved by them or by the court. 

Grandparents who are on good terms with their grandchild’s parents are more likely to have the opportunity to continue their relationship with their grandchild.

How can I get custody of my grandchildren? 

Under California law, grandparents can petition for custody of their grandchildren in certain circumstances. This is typically done when a grandparent feels the child's parent is unable or unwilling to provide adequate care. Just as with visitation rights, a grandparent needs to show that their care would better serve the child’s best interests.

In order to be considered for custody, a grandparent must file a petition with the court. The court will then consider factors such as the child's current physical and emotional needs, the parents’ fitness, and any other relevant facts that might affect the best interest of the child.

What if the custodial parent is incarcerated or unable to provide proper care?

When a parent is incarcerated or has a history of abuse, a grandparent may get custody of a grandchild. There are different scenarios in which this can happen.

  • Incarceration. One scenario is when the parents are divorced and one parent is incarcerated. If the incarcerated parent is the custodial parent and a grandparent wants custody, the court would examine which living situation would be best for the child.
  • Death of a parent. Another scenario is when a parent dies, and the grandchild is placed with grandparents by a court order. This can happen if there is no one else available to take care of the child. In this case, the grandparents would become the legal guardians of the child with full authority to make decisions regarding the child's welfare.
  • Abuse or mental health concerns. A final scenario in which a grandparent may get custody is if substance abuse or mental health issues stand in the way of the parent taking adequate care of the child. In this case, the grandparent may file for guardianship of the child and ask to be named as the permanent custodian. The court would likely grant that request if they found it to be in the child’s best interest.

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Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.