Florida has very strict laws as they relate to the rights of grandparents. In fact, for a long time grandparents almost had no legal right to actually visit their grandchild. This is particularly astonishing because many grandparents play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. In some cases they actually care for their grandchild while the parents deal with divorce, domestic violence, addiction, or other such family law issues. Indeed, some grandparents are full time caretakers of their grandchildren until a divorce or other dispute causes a rift to occur between them and their children; causing the grandchildren to be removed from their lives.
On July 1, 2015, a new Florida family law went into effect that expanded, although only slightly, grandparents’ visitation rights. Section 752.011, Florida Statutes, provides that a grandparent may petition the court for visitation of a minor child when the minor child’s parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and whose other parent has been convicted of a felony or an offence of violence evincing behavior that poses a substantial threat of harm to the minor child’s health or welfare.1 The statute is not clear whether a plea of guilty will be enough to act as a conviction under the statute.
After the petition is filed, the court must determine whether the grandparent has adequately met his or her burden of showing parental unfitness or significant harm to the minor child.2 Absent such a showing, the court will dismiss the petition.3 If the grandparent’s petition successfully shows parental unfitness or significant harm to the minor child, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem and refer the matter to family mediation.4
If the family mediation is unsuccessful, the court must conclude based on clear and convincing evidence that the visitation is in the best interest of the minor child and that the visitation will not materially harm the parent-child relationship.5 To determine the minor child’s best interest, the court will consider the totality of the circumstances affecting the mental and emotional well-being of the minor child by considering, among many other factors, the following:
• The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the minor child and the grandparent;
• The length and quality of the previous relationship between the minor child and the grandparent; and
• Whether the grandparent established ongoing personal contact with the minor child and the grandparent.
Our family law attorneys at the Law Office of Knellinger & Associates have years of experience in family law. We can help you determine whether you have a right to visitation of a minor child. Our family law attorneys are also very knowledgeable about parental rights. Please contact us to find out how we can assist you with your family law matter.
1. Fla. Stat. § 752.011 (2015).
2. Fla. Stat. § 752.011(1) (2015).
4. Fla. Stat. § 752.011(2) (2015).
5. Fla. Stat. § 752.011(2)-(3) (2015).