Grandparent Visitation After a Divorce
When Florida couples with children file for divorce, custody and visitation issues typically will focus on the parents and time-sharing agreements. In many cases, however, grandparents feel that their visitation rights aren’t taken into account, particularly in situations where those grandparents have played a significant role in childrearing. According to a recent article in the Sun Sentinel, “a new Florida law is being trumpeted as the first advancement in grandparent visitation rights in decades.”
The bill was sponsored by Senator Joseph Abruzzo, and Governor Rick Scott signed it into law. It went into effect July 1, but many commentators contend that the law “still leaves most grandparents legally stranded.”
Grandparent Standing and Visitation Rights
In general—and even with the new law—grandparents in Florida have “almost no legal standing . . . when it comes to visiting their grandchildren.” And that’s true even in cases where the children lived with their grandparents during a particularly contentious divorce. As one family law advocate explains, grandparents who are currently caring for their grandchildren as the parents deal with divorce issues want to know what rights they have.
However, those grandparents in effect don’t have many rights. The only solution, in many cases, is for one of the parents to move to another state in which visitation laws work differently.
Grandparents’ rights advocates hoped that the new law would “allow grandparents to tell the family courts why they should be able to see their grandkids.” But the law doesn’t exactly work that way. To be sure, the statutory language only affects a very small group of grandparents. Specifically, the visitation rights only extend to grandparents whose “grandchild’s parents are both dead, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state,” and to grandparents in cases where “one parent meets any of the previous requirements and the other parent has been convicted of a felony.”
In other words, grandparent visitation rights don’t extend to grandparents in more common contested divorces. To be sure, in divorces with tough custody battles—including those where a grandparent ends up caring for a minor child—the grandparent won’t be able to have a petition for visitation rights heard. And as the article underlines, “Florida rulings have consistently upheld that parents have the right to control who has access to their children.”
Broadening the Scope of the Law in Florida
While the new law concerning grandparent visitation rights doesn’t do much for grandparents in the most common child custody battles, Senator Abruzzo has indicated that he “hopes to broaden its scope in future legislative sessions.” As Abruzzo clarified, before the bill was signed into law, he received numerous phone calls from grandparents who have been affected negatively by child custody decisions after a divorce. And many of those grandparents “felt hopeless,” Abruzzo explained. As such, the senator has emphasized that “this is an issue I am going to be working hard on during the remainder of my time in the legislature.”
Additional changes to the law may be particularly relevant in Florida, given the sheer number of grandparents who reside in our state. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns about custody and visitation issues after divorce, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale family law attorney. Contact the Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood Law Offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. for legal advice at 954-963-5900 or leave a message online.