While on a lunch break this summer, I noticed a small group of children all wearing summer camp T-shirts that read “Grandma’s Summer Camp, 2016.” Printed on the shirts were destinations the children had been during previous “summer camps” with their grandparents – the Los Angeles Zoo, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Hollywood Bowl, etc. Watching the kids’ excitement to be together as a family took my mind off my workload and made me think of how lucky those kids were to have this annual tradition with their grandparents.
There’s no doubt that the strength of a grandparent’s bond with their grandchild can make all the difference in the world to a child’s development
Grandparents can play a significant role within the family structure, especially when their adult children rely on them for childcare. Unfortunately, during a divorce, grandparents, much like children of a divorce, can get caught up in the middle of a custody battle. Sometimes grandparents find themselves having to beg to see their grandchild, and often face legal hurdles to obtain visitation rights.
What’s more, if both parents agree that it is not in the best interest of the child for the grandparents to visit, California family law supports that presumption. In other words, during a divorce, the grandparents’ wish to continue to be involved with their grandchild is overshadowed by the parents’ wish. However, there is hope for highly involved grandparents who petition the family court for visitation rights. If they are able to provide proof of their significant role in the child’s life, their appeal could prevail.
Recently, there was a family law case involving grandparents who were extremely involved in their granddaughter’s life. The grandparents were present during her birth, played an active role dropping off and picking up their granddaughter at preschool and watching her after school while her father and mother were at work. While her mother and father were still married and living together, the grandparents spent about 25 days per month looking after their granddaughter.
When the mother and father separated, the grandparents spent even more time with their granddaughter, especially after the father and child moved into their home.
Eventually, the grandparents’ relationship with their son soured. When the father moved out of their home, the grandparents were cut off from seeing their granddaughter. In an effort to obtain visitation rights, the grandparents filed a petition. At the hearing, the court took into consideration evidence of the strong bond between the grandparents and their granddaughter, and the grandparents were granted overnight visits with her every week, a full weekend once a month, a full week during the summer and overnight visits around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Based on this ruling, we can see that grandparents who have strong bonds with their grandchild should not throw in the towel when one or both of the parents attempt to cut them off from seeing their grandchild. Here are some suggested types of evidence grandparents can gather to prove their close relationship with their grandchild:
- Keep emails and text messages from the parents requesting and agreeing to childcare arrangements, sleepovers and school pick-up/drop-off.
- Keep a calendar indicating the days and times spent caring for the grandchild.
- Collect copies of school sign-in/sign-out sheets.
- Collect photographs of you and your grandchild from holiday and birthday celebrations, vacations and school or sports events.
- Take photos of a designated play area or room for your grandchild in your home.
Grandparents who wish to fight for child visitation rights should not delay petitioning. The court will weigh a decision based on the existing relationship and bond with the child, so a lapse in spending time with your grandchild could work against you.
Don Schweitzer is Founder and Partner of the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, a Pasadena family law firm. As a Certified Family Law Specialist and former District Attorney, he has extensive background in domestic violence, divorce and child custody issues. He is an active member of the Pasadena Bar Association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, American Bar Association and the California State Bar. For more information, visit www.pasadenalawoffice.com.