Grandparents’ visitation rights in Texas

The situation

Once upon a time, when two persons had a relationship, out of which children were born, and the relationship then ran into problems or terminated, usually the only subject of focus by the court, as far as custody and visitation issues were involved, were the rights of the parents. Today, in many cases, there are additional third parties involved, namely the grandparents.

Most grandparents have a close, loving relationship with their grandchildren and want to maintain that relationship even in times of trouble. If the parents agree to visitation by the grandparents, there is no problem. But if they disagree, then the grandparents may have to go to court to assert their rights. These rights, as recognized by statute and court opinion, have changed greatly over the years, especially since 2000.

The case that changed everything

The Supreme Court of the United States, in June of 2000, issued a decision involving the visitation rights of grandparents in the case of Troxel v. Granville. The case invalidated a state law in Washington that allowed a court to award visitation to "any interested party," if visitation was in the child's best interests, even in the face of parental objection. It was a 6-3 decision, involving 6 opinions, which makes it difficult to interpret, but one thing the court clearly said was the statute in question was "breathtakingly broad" and infringed parental rights. The case has become the basis of all subsequent legislation and discussion in general involving grandparents' rights.

Texas law

Following Troxel, every state has enacted a visitation law applicable to grandparents, although the particularities of the specific statutory provisions may vary greatly. In Texas, visitation is allowed by the court if it can be proven that "denial... would significantly impair the child's physical health or emotional well-being."

"Significantly," according to some experts, sets a high, albeit not at all impossible, bar for grandparents. This statutory language points out the need to pinpoint the "well-being" that will be affected by the denial of visitation.

Also, there is a list of additional circumstances, one of which must also be proven to exist:

  • The parents got a divorce.
  • The child was neglected or abused.
  • The parent died, was found incompetent, or was incarcerated.
  • The relationship between parent and child has been terminated by the court.
  • The child and grandparent have lived together for six months or longer.

It is important to note that visitation may not be requested if the child is adopted by a third party, that is, by a person who is not his step-parent.

Conclusion

If you are a grandparent in the State of Texas, and you son or daughter has gone through a divorce, or has been involved in a situation involving one of the factors listed above, such as child abuse, termination of parental rights, or the like, and you desire to maintain visitation rights with your grandchildren in the face of your son or daughter objecting to such visitation, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney in order to determine how you may maintain contact with your grandchildren.