Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Maryland?

Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Maryland?

While going through a divorce, child custody case, or other family law dispute can be stressful and even hostile, families tend to agree on one thing: they want what’s best for their children.

Prioritizing a child’s health, safety, and emotional wellbeing after their parents separate or divorce is often a top priority for both parents and grandparents. While most (if not all) family members truly want what is best for the kids, this shared goal doesn’t necessarily unite family members during the legal proceedings.

In some cases, immediate or extended family can disagree on what custody decisions are most appropriate for the child in question. Given the gravity of court-ordered custody arrangements, it’s essential for all family members to understand their legal rights and limitations to avoid violating the court order.

Custody & Visitation Rights for Grandparents in Maryland

Grandparents are often beloved figures in a child’s life. Many children look up to their grandparents as role models and can benefit from their grandparents’ wisdom, life lessons, and cherished family memories.

Naturally, grandparents may wonder what their visitation rights may be in the event that their grandchild’s parents separate or divorce. In extreme cases, a grandparent might decide to request custody of their grandchild, such as in the event of child abuse, domestic violence, or unsafe living conditions.

Whatever the case, it’s important for grandparents to understand their rights when it comes to child custody and visitation laws in Maryland. Under Maryland Family Code §9-102, grandparents have the legal right to request reasonable visitation with their grandchildren at any time. However, Maryland case law has clarified that constitutionally, grandparents stand in the same position as all other persons who are not parents, and so even grandparents must establish sufficient facts to rebut the constitutional parental presumption, which can be a very high bar.

Assuming the child’s parent is on amicable terms with the grandparent, visitation time can be a simple task to achieve. However, if either parent objects to the proposed court-ordered access, the grandparent must overcome the presumption in family court to secure time with their grandchild.

Obtaining Visitation Rights as a Grandparent

If the child’s parent objects to the grandparent receiving visitation rights, the grandparent must first rebut the parental presumption and even then still bears the burden of proof to show that the proposed visitation is in the child’s best interest.

In other words, because the court operates under the assumption that parents act in their child’s best interests, the grandparent is legally obligated to back their claim by presenting sufficient evidence to the court.

Generally, there are 3 things a grandparent must demonstrate to successfully win visitation time with their grandchild:

  1. The child’s parents are both unfit. Grandparents must show that the child’s parents are incapable of making sound parenting decisions. In the eyes of a judge, an unfit parent may engage in harmful behaviors, such as substance abuse, emotional or physical abuse, neglect, or abandonment. An unfit parent may also have a criminal record or a history of family violence.
  2. The child will suffer harm if the grandparent does not receive court-ordered visitation time. The grandparent must demonstrate to the court that, if the child does not receive visitation time with the grandparent, it will have a negative impact on the child’s welfare. Keep in mind that the harm must be substantial in nature (such as physical, emotional, abuse; neglect; abandonment; or risk of emotional detriment). This is generally considered exceptional circumstances and may require expert testimony, such as by a mental health professional.
  3. The grandparent has been put in the position by the parents of acting as a parent to the child, even if not legally a parent.

After a grandparent has established at least one of the above three, they still must show that regular contact with the grandparent is necessary for the child's best interests as demonstrated by provided evidence. Assuming the grandparent successfully disproves the parental presumption by executing at least one of the requirements above, they must then show the court that visitation time is an integral component of the child's health and well-being while tying these claims to corresponding evidence.

Can Grandparents Obtain Custody of a Grandchild?

Yes, grandparents are legally permitted to request custody of their grandchildren if they believe it to be necessary and can establish standing. However, it’s important to keep in mind that requesting custody of a grandchild can require a similar showing of evidence as requesting visitation time.

While Maryland family courts tend to be sympathetic to the needs of parents and grandparents alike, it’s safe to assume that the judge will give parents the benefit of the doubt until valid evidence proves otherwise.

If the child’s parent objects to the grandparent having sole or partial custody, it can be very challenging for grandparents to obtain custody, as substantial proof is required to succeed in court. Possible reasons why a grandparent may find it worthwhile to seek custody of their grandchild include:

  • The parent voluntarily left the child alone or with another person with no intention of returning.
  • The child is in unsafe living conditions.
  • There is evidence of abuse and/or neglect.
  • The parent exposes the child to conduct or company that endangers the child’s wellbeing.
  • The parent repeatedly fails to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs.
  • The parent was incarcerated.
  • The parent passed away.

However, it’s more common for grandparents to obtain custody of a grandchild after a parent relinquishes custody. This can occur for various reasons, such as financial challenges or other complex issues that may jeopardize the parent’s ability to properly care for their child.

Evidence to Obtain Custody or Visitation of Grandchildren

The evidence required for a grandparent to receive visitation time or custody of a grandchild can vary based on both the unique circumstances of the case and the grandparent’s reason for seeking visitation or custody rights.

For example, evidence may entail proof of abuse or neglect, such as medical records, clinic notes, police reports, phone logs, audio recordings, or witness testimonies. Other forms of evidence may include:

  • Evidence of the grandparent-child relationship (such as photographs)
  • Professional testimony (such as from a child psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental or physical health professional)
  • Other third-party testimony (such as from a child’s teacher, sports coach, or other trusted adult in their life)

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of evidence will vary based on the details of your specific case. It’s best to seek sound legal counsel from a trusted family lawyer who can assist you with choosing, organizing, and presenting the most relevant evidence to the judge if you wish to obtain a favorable result in court.

Here to Make Your Family Our Top Priority

Whether you’re preparing to file for divorce or preparing for an upcoming custody battle, our experienced family lawyers are here to restore your peace of mind. Our firm takes pride in delivering the personalized attention and customized legal solutions that our clients deserve.

At Matthew Penick Law, we know how stressful family matters can be. As one of the most complex areas of our justice system, family law disputes can be sensitive and emotionally taxing for all involved parties, including extended family and relatives.

With over a decade of legal experience, our firm has a proven track record serving families in need throughout Queen Anne’s County. If you’re a grandparent seeking custody or visitation rights in Maryland, our skilled legal advocates can help you assert your rights to keep your loved ones safe and well. Reach out to our office to learn how we can help you obtain the legal result you deserve.

If you’re preparing for a family law case, you deserve high-quality representation from a family lawyer you can trust. Call (410) 618-0863 or contact us online today to request your free consultation.