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Grandparents need to understand limits on visitation rights

Grandparents in Rhode Island can petition the court for formal visitation rights with their grandchildren.

Most of the time, grandparents end up being denied visitation when there's a divorce going on or some form of "bad blood" exists between the parents and the grandparents, souring the familial relationship as a whole. Another common situation occurs when one of the parents dies, the surviving parent moves on, and the biological parents of the deceased parent are shut out because the surviving parent feels like continuing the relationship is too painful or confusing for the child.

The rules that allow a grandparent to apply for visitation in Rhode Island seem straightforward:

—It's in the best interest of the grandchild to give the grandparent visitation.

—The grandparent is fit and proper to have visitation.

—The grandparent has repeatedly tried to visit his or her grandchild and been denied each time directly by the action of either or both of the child's parents.

—Court intervention is going to be required to make visitation happen.

—The grandparent can overcome the presumption that the decision to deny visitation was reasonable.

However, some of these requirement are deceptively simple-sounding and can actually present a serious obstacle to grandparents seeking a meaningful relationship with their grandchild. One of those is the rule that requires grandparents to make repeat attempts to visit—and be denied—through the direct actions of one or both parents. Grandparents who don't understand the significance of this rule can end up being very disappointed in court.

Essentially, if you're the grandparent, it's important to understand that the court will not look at the quality of the time that you are given to visit with your grandchild. The court also won't take into consideration your preferences about when or where the visitation takes place. For example, if your son has passed away and your former daughter-in-law decides to restrict visitation to a one-monthly dinner out at a restaurant somewhere, in her presence so that she can monitor what you do or don't say to your grandchild, that's enough to defeat your petition for visitation rights.

A family law attorney can help grandparents petition for visitation, but it's important to understand the limitation of what can be done to override a parent's decisions about their child. Look for more information on this subject in future posts.

Source:, "Title 15 Domestic Relations Chapter 15-5 Divorce and Separation Section 15-5 24.3," accessed Dec. 18, 2016

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