The dissolution of the relationship between parents  can have a significant impact on family members, especially grandparents who are used to having easy access to their grandchildren. In many situations, the parents will continue to allow visitation rights, but if they choose not to, the grandparents may have a difficult time gaining visitation with the children.

That is because grandparents do not have a fundamental right to visit their grandchildren. However, some states allow grandparents to file a petition for a court order to obtain visitation rights.

Generally, the courts may determine whether or not to grant grandparent visitation rights based on the relationship between the parents and the grandparents, the relationship between the grandparents and the child, and whether doing so is in the best interest of the child.

When May Grandparents File for Visitation Rights in Florida?

By statute in Florida, grandparents may file for a court order with the local family court to allow visitation rights in specific circumstances that looks at the whether the parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and whether the remaining parent represents a “substantial threat of harm to the minor child’s health or welfare.”

These limited circumstances also looks at whether the grandparents have established that ordering visitation rights meets Florida’s best interest of the child standard as defined by statute.

Notice of the petition must be given to the parents. If the child is adopted by a stepparent or close relative, the stepparent or close relative can seek to terminate any visitation rights that were granted before the adoption. The grandparents in that case will need to show that the circumstances that warranted the granting of an order of visitation in the first place continue to be present.

A Brief History of Florida’s Grandparents Visitation Rights

In the past, a Florida family court could allow grandparents to seek visitation rights under two conditions. Those included when doing so was in the best interest of the child and if one of the following was present: the parents were divorced; the parent had deserted the child; or the child was born out of wedlock.

Today, grandparents may file a petition for an order allowing visitation only in these specific circumstances:

  • The child is a minor;
  • Both parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state; or
  • Both parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state AND the other parent has been convicted of a felony or an offense of violence evidencing behavior that pose a substantial threat of harm to the child.

What Does “Missing” and in a “Persistent Vegetative State” Mean?

Missing means the parent’s whereabouts are unknown for at least 90 days. The law imposes an affirmative duty on the grandparents to inquire as to the  parent’s whereabouts. Though not exhaustive, this inquiry must be made to other relatives, hospitals, recent employers, law enforcement, and relevant agencies like the post office. Persistent vegetative state is a permanent and irreversible of condition of unconsciousness, such as a coma or on life support.

What Happens When You File a Petition for Visitation Right?

After the petition is received by the court, the court will hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether the criteria have been met and whether the grandparents have established that the parent(s) is unfit or presents a significant harm to the child. The court will dismiss the petition if this evidence is not established absolutely and order reasonable attorney fees and costs to be paid by the grandparents.

If the court does find the grandparents have proven their petition, the court then will appoint a guardian ad litem and refer the matter to family mediation. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the court will then proceed with a final hearing.

At this final hearing and upon clear and convincing evidence, the court will order the visitation in the best interest of the child and after considering the impact on the material relationship of the parent and child.

What Does the Florida Court Consider When Determining Best Interest?

The court will look at the totality of the circumstances that may impact the mental and emotional well-being of the child in applying the best interest of the child standard. That standard in Florida includes consideration of the following:

  • Relationship between the child and grandparent and any visitation previously permitted by the parents;
  • Length of the previous relationship between the child and grandparent;
  • Continuity of personal contact by the grandparent before the parent died, went missing and fell into a vegetative state;
  • Reasons the parents ended previous visitation schedules;
  • Disruption of the family unit if visitation is granted; and
  • Existence of any substantial threat of harm to the health and well-being of the child.

Do I Need an Attorney for Issues with Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in Florida?

If you would like to seek visitation rights, you might want to consult with a local Florida child visitation lawyer to have them fully explain your rights under Florida law. The attorney can help you determine how best to file your petition and establish the reasons why you should be granted your petition.