Grandparents’ Rights in Utah
Grandparents have limited legal rights when it comes to visiting a child in Utah. However, there are legal processes by which a grandparent can obtain visitation rights and, in some cases, custody over a child, although they must meet some pretty specific criteria in order to get such rights.
This is assuming a parent is resistant. A grandparent can freely visit a child if permitted by their parents as long as they aren’t considered an active threat to a child’s safety.
What legal rights do grandparents have in Utah?
When it comes to one’s grandchildren, a Utah grandparent’s rights are somewhat limited, although they have avenues to try to obtain visitation rights if a child’s parents are resistant.
Generally, Utah’s §30-5-2(1) is most relevant. This is a section of the legal code that outlines how the visitation rights of a grandparent work. Discussed in more detail later, it essentially allows a grandparent to obtain visitation rights if they regularly serve as a custodian or caregiver to a child in a way similar to a parent or both of a child’s parents are unfit or incompetent in a way that could potentially harm a child.
A grandparent’s rights are much more limited in cases of competent parents who simply don’t want a grandparent in their child’s life. There is a presumption in Utah law that a parent has the obligation and right to control the care, direction, rearing, and schooling of their children. Unless a child’s parents demonstrably cannot handle this duty, they usually have the final say over what role a grandparent can play in a child’s life.
Can you obtain a court order as a grandparent to see your grandchild?
In Utah, a grandparent does have a legal right to request visitation of a child in district court. As stated above, this doesn’t mean all grandparents are equally likely to succeed at getting a court order for visitation rights.
Under Utah law, it is presumed that what a parent decides regarding visitation with grandparents is in the child’s best interest. However, presumptions can be refuted, which means to be proven false, if a grandparent can present evidence of certain issues that suggest their regularly visiting a child is in that child’s best interest.
Keep in mind, that this is not a general debate about one’s value as a grandparent. Instead, there are specific criteria the law lays out that allow for the presumption that a parent should have the final say over grandparent/grandchild visits. The law has two ways in which a grandparent may rebut this presumption.
The first is if a grandparent already acts as a parent and the absence of that relationship would lead to considerable damage to the grandchild. This doesn’t necessarily require the grandparent to be the sole parental figure in a child’s life, but it does require them to do more than regularly visit and show a child love and affection. They must truly serve a role in a child’s life comparable to a true parent or guardian and be able to show they served such a role in court.
The second is if both a child’s parents are incapable or inept in a way that triggers possible harm to a grandchild. In such cases, a grandparent can also get visitation rights, essentially allowing them to regularly check in on a child to make sure their needs are being met and that they are not being harmed or otherwise put in danger (either intentionally or unintentionally).
How visitation works for grandparents under Utah law
If someone has a case for obtaining visitation rights, such rights work for grandparents similarly to how they work when a divorced parent wants to visit their children. In Utah, there are guidelines and laws that prioritize the child's interests while recognizing the importance of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. In such cases, the court strives to find a balance between preserving these relationships while respecting the custodial parents’ rights and decisions.
When considering visitation rights for grandparents in Utah, the court also examines how it might affect dynamics within the family and impact the mental development of the child.
What if a parent wants to give custody to the grandparent of the child?
Under Utah Code § 30-5a-103, it is possible for a grandparent to gain custody over a child if it can be shown that a grandparent intentionally assumed the role of a parent for a child, the grandparent and the child formed a bond similar to that expected of a loving parent and child, the person contributed to the child’s emotional or financial well-being, the grandparent does not want to the parental role as the result of financial compensation, and a parent is absent or neglectful.
Gaining custody over a child when a parent wants to keep custody is generally very difficult (intentionally so), but it becomes easier if a child’s legal guardians (not just one in the case of multiple) want a grandparent to become a child’s primary custodian. It is possible to sign over guardianship, assuming nothing about a grandparent’s situation makes them unfit, as deemed by the courts, to be a child’s guardian. For example, a history of abuse or other behavior that may be deemed dangerous to a child would likely disqualify them from serving as guardians.
Part of willingly giving up a child will be the Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights. This is a legal process by which parents relinquish all parental rights and responsibilities.
This should only be undergone if one is certain they want to permanently give up their legal say in a child’s life. In very specific circumstances, parental rights could potentially be restored after relinquishing them, but in most cases, they will not be restored.
References30-5-2. Visitation Rights of Grandparents. (September 2022) Utah State Legislature.
Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights. Utah State Courts.
30-5a-103. Custody and Visitation for Individuals Other Than a Parent. (September 2022). Utah State Legislature.