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A primer on visitation and custody rights for Massachusetts grandparents

Grandparents in Massachusetts can seek child custody or visitation, but they must meet strict criteria to prove these arrangements benefit the children.

Many grandparents in West Springfield enjoy close nurturing relationships with their grandchildren. According to USA Today, national data indicates that it's even becoming more common for grandparents to take on direct responsibility for their grandchildren by providing financial support or helping with their upbringing. Sadly, though, these relationships may be threatened when the grandchildren's parents go through significant life changes, such as divorce.

Fortunately, in Massachusetts, there are legal measures that can help grandparents protect their relationships with their grandchildren, since state law recognizes grandparents' rights to visitation and child custody. It is important for grandparents to understand these rights as well as the issues that may arise during custody or visitation cases.

When can grandparents request visitation?

Grandparents may only request visitation with a grandchild under certain circumstances. If the grandchild's married or unmarried parents live together and oppose visitation with the grandparents, the grandparents cannot petition for visitation time in court. However, grandparents can pursue visitation under the following conditions:

• The parents are divorced or living apart.

• One or both parents have passed away.

• The parents are under an order of separate support.

Generally, grandparents cannot pursue visitation rights with an adopted grandchild, unless a stepparent adopted the child.

What factors affect visitation decisions?

When making decisions regarding child custody or visitation arrangements, family law judges must first consider the best interests of the child. The law also gives weight to the preferences of the child's parents. Grandparents aren't precluded from securing visitation rights if the child's parents do not wish to grant these rights. However, grandparents must prove that the child's health, safety or welfare would suffer if the grandparents were not granted visitation rights.

Can grandparents seek custody?

Grandparents may also pursue permanent or temporary custody of their grandchildren. Doing so may offer benefits for grandparents who have largely assumed responsibility for raising their grandchildren. By securing legal custody, grandparents gain authority to make important decisions regarding each child's medical treatment, education and more.

Unfortunately, securing legal and physical custody can be challenging. Grandparents can only receive custody if the parents give permission or if the court determines that the parents are unfit. Specifically, the court only will award custody to a child's grandparents if living with the biological parents would pose a significant threat to the child.

Protecting legal rights

In many cases, it can be difficult for grandparents to prove that visitation is in a child's best interests or that a child's parents aren't fit to maintain custody. Therefore, grandparents who are thinking of pursuing visitation or custody may benefit from partnering with an attorney. An attorney may be able to help a grandparent understand the relevant laws and present a more effective case.

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Johnson, Sclafani & Moriarty, Attorneys at Law
776 Westfield Street
West Springfield, MA 01089

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