- What legal rights do grandparents have in Florida?
- Court order for grandparent visitation
- Court order for grandparent custody
Are you a grandparent who wants to know more about your legal rights to visit or raise your grandchildren? In Florida, grandparents don’t typically have automatic access to a grandchild if one or both of the child’s parents are considered legally fit for the job. Of course, many families willingly welcome grandparents into their lives because they are important members of the family.
If a child’s parents are unable to take good care of them for a reason such as incapacitation or the threat of physical violence, however, a grandparent’s rights may expand. In such a case, as long as a grandparent is not considered to be a significant risk to the child’s well-being or safety, said grandparent may be able to get mandated visitation with or custody of the grandchild.
What legal rights do grandparents have in Florida?
Generally speaking, a grandparent’s rights regarding their grandchildren are limited in Florida. A child’s parents get to decide whether a grandparent has access to the child.
However, a grandparent's rights may expand significantly if a minor grandchild is removed from the physical custody of the parent and the child has an established case plan in which the grandparent visitation is deemed unlikely to interfere.
A grandparent’s rights may expand if the child’s parents are missing, deceased, or in a chronic vegetative condition. They may also expand if one parent is dead, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and the other has been convicted of a felony or other crime that suggests they pose a considerable threat of harm to a child’s health or well-being.
In the cases discussed above, a grandparent can normally either visit their grandchild or petition to visit. The visit can usually be unsupervised and may involve appropriate displays of affection.
Exceptions to the rule
Several factors could bar a grandparent from visiting a grandchild even if they would normally have the right to do so. Broadly, the court decides whether a grandparent visiting would be in the best interest of the child. A grandparent found guilty of removing minors from a state or concealing them contrary to a court order, sexual battery, sexual misconduct, incest, or child abuse would generally be barred from visiting a child.
In 2022, Governor DeSantis expanded grandparents’ rights to petition for visitation if one parent has been found criminally liable for the death of the other parent.
Can you obtain a court order as a grandparent to see your grandchild?
It is sometimes possible to get a court order to see a grandchild even if the child’s guardians don’t consent to it. This only applies in certain circumstances, however. Generally, if one or both parents are considered legally fit, a grandparent will have no legal recourse if denied the ability to visit.
As noted in the previous section, this changes if both parents are deceased, missing, or in a chronic vegetative condition. It also changes if one parent is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and the other has been convicted of a serious crime. In such cases, a grandparent may petition the court to allow for the visitation of a minor grandchild. (An adult grandchild can decide for themselves if a grandparent may visit them or not.)
Florida law would likely put the burden of proof on the grandparent. The grandparent would have to provide evidence that the parent is unfit, that their visitation would serve the best interest of the child, and that visitation would not harm the relationship between the parents and the child.
As noted earlier, certain circumstances, such as a grandparent being convicted of a serious crime that makes them a potential danger to a child, may cause the court to reject an otherwise valid visitation petition.
What if a parent wants to give custody to a grandparent of the child?
If a child’s legal parents want to give custody of a child to the grandparents, Florida law generally allows for that. With the consent of the child’s parents, grandparent adoptions often take only a few months to complete. What’s more, the law doesn’t require a home study – in which a professional inspects the home to make sure it’s a good living space – for grandparent and close relative adoptions.
If a child is adopted in this way, it’s important to understand the implications. First, the child’s previous set of guardians terminates their legal rights over the child.
While an adoptive grandparent can still allow the child’s previous caretakers to have a role in their life (assuming it is safe to do so), they aren’t required to allow it. Legally, once a grandparent has adopted a grandchild, they have the right to make most major decisions about the child’s life, including who is and isn’t allowed to visit.
What about a professional home study in this case? While a home study isn’t required for a grandparent to adopt a grandchild, the grandparent would be legally required to meet the child’s needs. They would be expected to provide the child with shelter, food, and clothing; to keep the child safe and secure; and to take responsibility for their health and education.
It would be possible for an adoptive grandparent to lose custody of a grandchild if they were found to be abusive or neglectful or if they engaged in criminal behavior or willfully abandoned the child.
ReferencesThe 2023 Florida Statutes: 39.509. The Florida Legislature.
The 2023 Florida Statutes: 752.011. The Florida Legislature.
DeSantis Signs Grandparents Rights Measure. (June 2022). The Florida Bar.