In a previous post we discussed some of the limitations that Rhode Island’s statutes impose on grandparents who want to seek visitation rights.
In addition to those limitations, grandparents need to contend with a Supreme Court ruling known as Troxel v. Granville, which is seen as generally damaging to grandparents’ rights as whole. While the ruling doesn’t really provide any clear explanation of what a “fit parent” is or isn’t, it held that fit parents are presumed to act in the best interest of their children. The ruling essentially directs states to stay out of family matters.
In practical terms, that’s made it much harder for grandparents to seek visitation over the objections of parents in an “intact family,” which is commonly defined as a married couple.
If you’re the grandparent and some issue has come between your child that’s caused him or her to cut off contact between you and your grandchild, you may have a very difficult time overcoming the presumption that your son or daughter is a fit parent. If you believe that your grandchild’s parents, including your own child, are genuinely unfit, perhaps due to drug or alcohol addiction, you may have to go to court and ask for custody instead of visitation.
In situations where your grandchild’s nuclear family isn’t intact, either due to divorce or the death of one of the parents, grandparents in Rhode Island still have to present clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s decision to deny visitation was unreasonable and that visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild.
If you’ve enjoyed a previously strong relationship with your grandchild and you haven’t done anything that could be seen as interfering with his or her parent’s authority or child-rearing, you may be able to convince the court that it would harm your grandchild to have you suddenly cut out of his or her life and that there’s no reason to do so.
However, since the laws are heavily weighted in favor of the parents, grandparents may want to try to resolve the visitation issue through mediation before actively suing for custody.
Regardless of what you decide to do, a family law attorney can help you sort through your options.
Source: webserver.rilin.state.ri.us, “Title 15 Domestic Relations Chapter 15-5 Divorce and Separation Section 15-5 24.3,” accessed Dec. 18, 2016