Grandparents, stepparents, and other caretakers often form deep and loving attachments with the children in their lives. Yet when death, divorce, or estrangement tears families apart, these caretakers may find themselves without any legal right to maintain contact with the children they love.
Child Visitation Laws
All 50 states currently have some type of "grandparent visitation" statute through which grandparents and sometimes others (foster parents and stepparents, for example) can ask a court to grant them the legal right to maintain their relationships with loved children. But state laws vary greatly when it comes to the crucial details, such as who can visit and under what circumstances.
Approximately 20 states have "restrictive" visitation statutes, meaning that generally only grandparents can get a court order for visitation — and only if the child’s parents are divorcing or if one or both parents have died. However, most states have more permissive visitation laws that allow courts to consider a visitation request even without the death of a parent or the dissolution of the family, so long as visitation would serve the best interests of the child. Some states allow caretaking adults besides grandparents to make such a petition.
Both restrictive and permissive visitation statutes have been challenged in court by parents who argue that the laws are an infringement on parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit. Courts have made contradictory rulings.