Today, all 50 states have some type of grandparent visitation law. These statutes allow grandparents to ask a court to give them the legal right to maintain their relationships with their children's children.
Visitation statutes, however, do not give a grandparent an absolute right to visitation, and the laws vary widely from state to state on crucial details such as who may petition for visitation rights, under what circumstances a grandparent may file such a petition, and on what legal grounds the petition will be granted.
The states differ on the extent to which parents have a right to control their children's upbringing. Some states have viewed visitation by grandparents as only a small infringement on the right of a parent to raise a child. These states focus on what is in the "best interest of the child" in making decisions about whether or not to allow grandparents to visit. In these "permissive" states, even unrelated caretakers can often petition for visitation rights, and grandparents can seek visitation even in cases where the family is intact (i.e., there has not been a divorce or a death in the family). In these states, courts may award grandparents visitation rights even if the parents object.
Other states are more protective of a parent's right to decide what is best for the child. They have "restrictive" visitation statutes, meaning that generally only grandparents, not other caretakers, have visitation rights, and these rights may be pursued only if the child's parents are divorcing, one or both parents have died, or the child was born out of wedlock. In other words, in these states the parents in intact families have the final word on whether or not grandparents are allowed to visit.
For more information on grandparents’ visitation rights, click here.