What You Need To Know About Third Party Visitation Rights

Third party visitation rights are becoming an increasingly common issue in today's courts, especially as the dynamics of the traditional American family change. If you're a family member or a caretaker who's interested in gaining visitation rights for a minor, the following features in-depth information that could prove helpful.

When Can Third Parties Receive Visitation Rights?

Ordinarily, most courts err on the side of the biological parents when it comes to the best interests of the child. In certain cases, however, the court may grant visitation rights or even custody to a qualified third party if there's evidence suggesting it would better serve the child's best interests. Such outcomes are typically prominent in cases of physical or psychological abuse and parental neglect.

The courts usually consider a broad range of factors when determining whether third party visitation is in the best interests of the child. These factors include the parents' emotional ties to and financial support of the child, their ability to provide a stable and safe home environment and whether third party visitation would negatively impact the child's education, extracurricular activities and existing social support structure.

Who Qualifies as a "Third Party"?

In most cases, the "third party" involved in requesting non-parental visitation rights is usually a grandparent, sibling, biological aunt or uncle, caretaker or even a live-in partner who provided regular care and bonding with the child. The courts will likely take a close look at the relationship of the petitioner to the child and determine whether said person should be considered an eligible third party.

When it comes to determining who receives third party visitation rights and when those rights are granted, the ball is usually in the state's court. As a result, each state follows its own statutory guidelines for granting third party visitation rights. Some states place stiff restrictions on who can petition for visitation rights -- these rights are usually limited to grandparents and are only granted if one or both parents have died or are in the process of divorcing. Other states may offer more leeway, allowing grandparents, foster parents and stepparents to petition for visitation rights.

Most state courts follow the U.S. Supreme Court ruling set in Troxel v. Granville. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that parents had a fundamental right to limit third party visitation in the interests of their children and that, through improper application, the Washington state visitation statute at the heart of the case infringed upon said right. As a result, lower courts must give weight to the rights of the custodial parent as well as the rights of the child.

Taking Steps Towards Visitation Rights

The first step towards gaining third party visitation rights involves researching your state's statutes regarding grandparent and other third party visitation rights and filing the proper petition in accordance with said statutes. Most states require an outlined and mutually agreeable visitation agreement to be filed with the court clerk and served to the parents or guardians.

Some state courts may mandate mediation between the third party and child's parents (if the parents are still living) in order to settle the dispute and create a legally binding solution satisfying both sides. In this case, the courts may consider a petition only if a mediation session fails to resolve visitation issues outside of the courtroom. If mediation fails, the court will hold a hearing to review the petition along with supporting evidence from both sides and make a ruling based on these findings.

Going through the legal motions to obtain third party visitation rights can be a long and drawn-out battle, complete with pitfalls that could adversely affect your petition and jeopardize further legal action. It's a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney, such as those at Ivy Law Group PLLC, before taking any legal action, especially in sensitive family matters such as these.