Grandparent Rights in Missouri
When couples divorce, extended family members such as grandparents often lose contact with the children. Although some third parties can petition the court for certain access to children, these rights are still secondary to the rights of the child’s parents. In Missouri, grandparents have a legal right to ask the court to allow them reasonable visitation rights as long as it is not overly intrusive on the family.
Missouri law provides very specific rights for grandparent visitation and grandparent third-party custody, both regulated by the 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 Rights in Missouri
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:
- The parents of the child have filed for divorce;
- If the parents of the child are divorced;
- One parent is deceased;
- 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.
In any case where the court is determining custody, they have a choice to grant sole legal and physical custody in any suitable arrangement. That can be sole legal and physical custody to one parent or sole legal custody to one parent and joint physical custody to the parents. The court can also award joint legal and physical custody to the parents, and they also have the alternative to grant third-party custody or visitation (§452.375.5 RSMo).
Missouri courts presume that natural parents’ custody is in a child’s best interests unless evidence warrants a different arrangement.
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. Biological grandparents also have the option to pursue adoption to request custody of their grandchildren.
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.
How Can Missouri Grandparents Seek Visitation Rights
The first step is filing a petition to the court regarding your grandchildren’s child custody and visitation rights and notifying all of the parties involved. It would help if you also described the proposed visitation schedule. If you already have a visitation order, you can ask the court to modify it if you want more time with your grandchildren or enforce it if the child’s parent is interfering.
Bear in mind that the grandparent seeking visitation rights must prove that the proposed visits are in the child’s best interests. For example, you can prove that regular contact can positively impact a child’s physical health.
The court may consider the existing grandparent-grandchild relationship and their willingness to meet the child’s needs. In some cases, courts can also consider a child’s wishes.
How Can an Attorney Help With Grandparents’ Rights?
If you want to know more about grandparents’ rights, speaking with an experienced family law attorney can be the best option. An attorney can help you understand your rights and propose how to proceed with your case.
Reach out to The Carson Law Firm and schedule a consultation so we can move forward with your case.