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Missouri law provides specifically for grandparent visitation and grandparent third-party custody, both by statute. Both statutes have been examined in many different factual situations by the courts, and between the statute and the case law, a somewhat clear picture of the options for grandparent(s) and their children may be ascertained.

 

Grandparent visitation

This is governed by statute (§452.402 RSMo.).  Under the terms of the statute, the court may grant reasonable visitation rights to grandparents only if the grandparents have been unreasonably denied visitation for more than 90 days AND one of these other conditions has been met: SEE

  1. The parents of the child have filed for divorce;
  2. If the parents of the child are divorced;
  3. One parent is deceased;
  4. The child resided with the grandparents for six (6) months during the twenty-four (24) months immediately preceding the filing of the lawsuit.

If the parents are legally married to each other and living together with the child, the grandparents cannot seek court ordered visitation with the child.

There have been cases with unmarried parents where the father of the child did not seek custody or visitation with the child, and the paternal grandparent was allowed to seek and was then granted grandparent visitation rights.

The denial of visitation must be unreasonable. The courts have found sporadic, limited contact (such as attendance at a preschool holiday party) is enough to mean that there has not been a denial of reasonable visitation and that the petition for grandparent rights must be dismissed.

If the court decides that an award of grandparent visitation is appropriate, the visitation will occur in the area of the child’s residence and will be something like two (2) hours of visitation every ninety (90) days.  The Missouri Supreme Court has approved a judgment granting the grandparents two (2) hours of visitation every ninety (90) days not at the grandparents’ home and with the parent having the option to be present during the visitation.  Grandparent visitation in excess of two (2) hours every ninety (90) days is subject to reversal by the appellate court.

 

Third Party Custody

In any case where the court is determining custody they have a choice to grant sole legal and physical (or some other arrangement of the two such as sole legal and physical custody to one parent or sole legal custody to one parent and joint physical custody to the parents or joint legal and physical custody to the parents) and they also have the alternative to grant third party or visitation (§452.375.5 RSMo.)

In order for the court to award custody or third party to grandparents, the court must first find that each parent is unfit, unsuitable, or unable to be a custodian or the welfare of the child requires, and that such an award of custody is in the best interests of the child.

There is little guidance on the appropriate visitation for a grandparent under this law.  Section 452.375.5 is used, rarely, to award custody to grandparents.

Whichever law grandparents choose to proceed under, the courts are extremely protective of the parent-child relationship and reluctant to interfere.  Your money may be better spent on something other than court costs or legal fees.