Missouri law allows a court to award reasonable visitation to grandparents in certain situations. Ever since the legislature passed this law, however, courts have grappled with the question of how much time can be awarded to a grandparent without infringing upon the parents’ rights to raise their children. The Missouri Court of Appeals weighed in on this issue recently and provided some additional guidance.
First, it is important to understand that grandparents can only seek visitation under limited circumstances. The statute covering these circumstances is complex. Generally, if the parents are still married to each other, the grandparents cannot get relief from a court. Even if the parents are not married, the grandparents can only seek visitation if they are being unreasonably denied access by a parent, which usually has to occur over a long period of time.
Missouri courts have consistently ruled that, when grandparents are entitled to time with their grandchildren, visitation should not be excessive and may not necessarily be on par with the contact they might have enjoyed at an earlier time. According to the law, visitation cannot constitute “more that a minimal intrusion on the family relationship” or it is unconstitutional, because it denies parents their fundamental rights to care for their own children.
The judge who tried this recent case awarded visitation on alternate weekends from Friday to Monday morning and alternating holidays, with additional time each Christmas. In reversing the trial court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals stated that this schedule was designed for parents and was “totally inappropriate for grandparent visitation.” The Court of Appeals did not provide additional guidance as to what would not be considered intrusive, but the court seemed to say that the statute allows only for occasional temporary visitation.
Grandparents who believe they are entitled to time with their grandchildren should consult with an attorney well-versed in this complicated and confusing area of family law.