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Grandparents' Rights in Florida may be Changing

On behalf of The Law Offices of Cindy D. Sackrin posted in Family Law on Monday, March 25, 2013.

Grandparents' rights can be an emotionally-charged issue.

Recently, the Florida House Civil Justice committee voted unanimously in favor of a bill in support of grandparents' rights. Grandparents' rights has been an important family law issue in Florida after the legislature's previous attempts to pass a "Grandparents' Bill of Rights" were determined to be unconstitutional because it would interfere with a parent's right to determine who can and cannot see their child. The bill would allow a grandparent to request to visit a grandchild if one of the parents is missing, dead or in a vegetative state. The more restrictive grandparents' rights law than the earlier bill of rights still has several more stops and identical legislation has not yet been heard in the state Senate.

The purpose of giving grandparents visitation rights is to allow for grandparents to maintain contact with grandchildren. Over the past 40 years attitudes towards grandparents' rights, and the visitation rights of other nonparents, including foster parents and other caregivers, has evolved somewhat. Grandparents' rights issues have grown into important family law and family legal issues. Every state now has some method of managing grandparent visitation.

Generally, there are two types of approaches that states have taken in regard to grandparents' rights. The restrictive approach only allows grandparents visitation rights if the parents are divorced or one parent or both parents are dead. The permissive approach, on the other hand, allows a grandparent or another nonparent to request visitation even in cases when the parents are still alive and even if they are still married. In permissive approach states, the court will determine if the visitation request from the grandparent is in the best interests of the child in deciding whether or not to award it. Currently in Florida, a court may allow grandparent visitation when it is in the best interests of the child and the parents are divorced, a parent has deserted the child or the child was born out of wedlock.

Because visitation rights can be extremely emotional, it is important that all parties, including grandparents, understand the legal process surrounding visitation. There may be legal options available, other than court, including mediation, to help resolve a dispute over grandparents' visitation rights.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Michelle Parker's mother seeks visitation rights," Jennifer Curington, March 18, 2013.

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