Florida is unique in that, unlike many states, grandparents have specific visitation rights granted to them by statute. However, these visitation rights only apply in certain circumstances.
In most situations, when a parent does not want the child to be exposed to a grandparent, grandparent visitation will not be available because the parents still have full control over who their child will see. Nonetheless, there are circumstances where a grandparent will be able to visit their grandchild regardless of the parent’s wishes.
Grandparent Visitation Laws in Florida
In 2015, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that allowed grandparents of minor children to petition the court for visitation under some limited circumstances. Generally, the grandparent will only be granted visitation rights if a parent has been killed, is missing, or is currently in a vegetative state. Grandparent visitation may also be awarded where there is a substantial threat of harm to the child’s health or welfare because of particular behavior that the parent is exhibiting. Rights may also be granted when the other parent has been convicted of a felony as well.
The grandparent must specifically petition for these rights, and the court will weigh the diverse competing interests in the matter to determine whether visitation would be appropriate.
The Process of Obtaining Grandparent Visitation Rights
When a grandparent requests visitation rights, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether the grandparent has made the preliminary showing that substantial harm may come to the child or that a parent is unfit to care for the child. This initial showing is often referred to as a “prima facie,” showing. Prima facie is a Latin term that means “based on the first impression” or “shown on the surface.” It is a low burden for grandparents to meet.
Once the prima facie showing has been met, the court may refer the matter to mediation. If mediation is not successful, then the court will hold a final hearing. If the grandparent can show the following three requirements, visitation rights will be granted.
- The parent is unfit, or there is a significant threat of harm to the child
- Visitation is in the best interest of the child
- Visitation will not materially harm the parent-child relationship
To prove these factors, grandparents can present a variety of evidence. The court will consider every aspect of the circumstances to make its decision. This approach is often referred to as the “totality of the circumstances.” The Code lays out 13 factors that the judge should consider when making his or her decision.
Grandparents are only permitted to file a visitation petition once every two years, except if good cause indicates that a child is suffering or may suffer significant mental or emotional harm if visitation is denied.
Whether you are a grandparent who would like visitation rights or a parent attempting to defend of visitation petition, Blair H Chan, III can help. Call 813-280-5301 for more information.