In Missouri, grandparents' rights to visitation with a minor child are defined by state statute. Pursuant to Missouri Rev. Stat. § 452.402, a court may grant reasonable visitation rights to grandparents in the following situations.
- When parents file for divorce.
- After a divorce has been finalized if visitation has been denied to the grandparents.
- When one parent of a child is deceased and visitation has been denied to the grandparent.
- If a child has resided with a grandparent for at least six months during the 24-month period preceding filing a petition for visitation and visitation has been unreasonably denied to the grandparent for at least 90 days. However, a grandparent may not file pursuant to this provision if the parents are legally married to each other and the child is residing with the natural parents.
What is the procedure for filing for grandparent visitation in Missouri?
Grandparents have a statutory right to intervene in a proceeding to request visitation with minor children in a divorce proceeding. A court shall grant a grandparent's motion to intervene in a divorce case solely on the issue of visitation rights. A court shall grant a grandparent's motion to intervene and modify a previous custody order if the grandparent has been denied visitation.
A motion to intervene allows a party who was not an original party to the lawsuit to be notified of future court proceedings and to be present at all future proceedings. In cases involving grandparent visitation, the grandparent seeking to intervene in the parents' divorce proceeding will need to file a petition to intervene and request an order granting the motion for intervention.
After a divorce case has been closed, a grandparent who has been denied visitation may file a petition with the court where the original case was filed to reopen the case. Grandparents who are being denied visitation should consider keeping a record for themselves on the exact time, date, place, and manner that visitation was denied, and note any stated reasons given for denial of visitation. This information can become important later on if a case proceeds to mediation or a hearing.
A court may order reasonable conditions or restrictions on grandparent visitation. Examples of reasonable conditions include the time and place where visitation shall occur. A court may also consider if there have been any problems with visitation in the past such as excessive phone calls or interference with visitation by a parent.
What is court-ordered mediation?
If a grandparent has been denied visitation, a court may (upon written request) order mediation with any party who has custody rights and the grandparent. The costs of mediation shall be paid by the grandparent making the request. The purpose of a mediator is to assist in resolving any disputes between the parties outside a courtroom setting. Mediation sessions may be terminated by either party after a third mediation session.
Mediation is a means to try to settle a case outside a courtroom setting. Many cases can be resolved through mediation with an experienced negotiator on your side which can save valuable time and money that could otherwise be spent on litigation. Cases that cannot be settled through mediation may need to be resolved by a judge after evidence is presented at a hearing.
Mediation is not the only way that a case may settle outside a courtroom setting. In some cases, if all parties involved in a case are able to reach an agreement before mediation or a formal hearing, a written agreement can memorialize the understanding between the parties. A written agreement can be incorporated into a court order, which will then become legally binding after being approved by a judge and filed with the court.
What factors may a court consider when determining the best interests of the child?
When no agreement can be reached between the parties involved, a court will make any decision regarding grandparent visitation in Missouri based on the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court will consider whether or not granting visitation with grandparents would endanger a child's physical health or impair their emotional development. A court will consider all factors relevant to a child's well-being, including, but not limited to, the following.
- The wishes of the child's parents. Parents may submit a proposed parenting plan to the court for consideration.
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with any relatives or other persons who could affect the child's well-being.
- The child's adjustment to the child's home, school, and community.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. In cases where the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence has occurred, the court shall enter orders in a manner that best protects the child from further harm.
- The intention of either parent to relocate. In a divorce case where grandparent visitation is at issue, a court may consider where the grandparents live and their relationship with the child when deciding which parent should be awarded custody.
- The wishes of the child. A court may consult a child to better understand the child's wishes in regard to grandparent visitation. A court's decision to do this is at the judge's discretion and usually will depend on the age and maturity of the child as well as whether or not the court has enough evidence to make a decision regarding the case without input from the child.
- A court may order a home study to assist the court in rendering decisions consistent with the best interests of a minor child. For grandparents requesting unsupervised or overnight visitation, the purpose of a home study is to ensure that they have adequate accommodations suitable for the minor child.
If your case proceeds to a contested hearing, you may be expected to testify about your relationship with the child, the child's parents relationship with the child, your housing situation, any proposed visitation schedule, whether or not you have been denied visitation according to the court-ordered schedules and any other factors that may be deemed relevant to a determination of your case. It is a good idea to prepare for a hearing by taking photos of your home and making a list of any of the most important things you want a judge to consider.
During court proceedings, it is important to be completely honest about any of the questions you are asked, even if you feel that an answer could make you look bad. It is also important to share all the facts of your case with your attorney prior to any contested hearing. Judges are experienced in considering all the facts of the case and understand the importance of children's relationship with their grandparents.
How do grandparents' rights change when parents are living together and legally married?
When a child's natural parents are living together and are legally married, there is a “rebuttable presumption” that the parents know what is in their child's best interests. This means that a court will not interfere with the decision of legally married parents to allow or deny grandparent visitation unless a grandparent can prove that the parents are not acting in their child's best interests.
The natural parents of a minor child may make decisions regarding a child's upbringing, including education, healthcare, and religious training. This means that a court will not interfere with whatever a parent decides regarding their child's upbringing unless it is demonstrated by evidence that these decisions are not consistent with the child's best interests.
What is a guardian ad litem?
A judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to better understand the needs of children in a child custody case. A guardian ad litem is an attorney who represents a minor child. A guardian ad litem may conduct interviews with the parents of a minor child, the minor child, the grandparents, and any other witnesses necessary to obtain information regarding the child's best interests. A guardian ad litem will then make a report for the court regarding the information discovered and any opinions regarding what is in a child's best interests. Determinations made by a guardian ad litem are not binding on a court but can be persuasive in child custody and visitation proceedings.
Are step-grandparents allowed to file for visitation?
Step-grandparents are not permitted to file for visitation pursuant to the Missouri state statutes regarding visitation rights for grandparents. However, in some situations, an attorney may be able to seek visitation for step-grandparents when it is in the best interests of a child. Speaking with an experienced family law attorney is the best way for step-parents who are seeking visitation with a minor child understand their rights and the best way to proceed with their case.
Contact Cass County, Missouri Family Law Attorney Joshua Wilson
Procedural aspects of family law cases can be complex. It is important to have an attorney with proven ability to achieve successful results for his clients on your side. Joshua Wilson is a knowledgeable, compassionate attorney who will take the time to listen to your side and fight for your rights in court. Contact the Joshua Wilson Law Firm today online or call (816) 331-9968 to schedule a consultation.