Custody issues in divorce are often harmful for the children involved. While divorce raises custody questions between the parents, there are others involved who may prove just as affected, and those are the child’s grandparents. To visit grandchildren when there are custody issues, a grandparent must file an application with the county courthouse and formally make a request.
Grandparent Visitation in New Jersey
New Jersey law permits grandparents to apply for visitation. However, the court determines whether visitation is possible based on several factors. These include:
- The grandparent’s relationship with the child
- The grandparent’s relationship with the child’s parents
- How long it has been since the child saw the grandparents
The court also determines how visits may affect the relationship of the child and his or her parents. If there is a time-sharing custody arrangement between the parents, this is also taken into consideration, along with the good faith of the grandparent filing the application. Of course, if the grandparent has any history of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, that will also affect the court’s decision.
The Burden of Proof for Grandparents
It falls upon the grandparents to prove that a visitation denial may harm their grandchild. A grandparent may argue that their presence provides a calming, stabilizing role in the child’s life. Grandparents who saw the child regularly before the divorce, and suddenly no longer see them, may be traumatic to the child. If the grandparents have a close relationship with the grandchild, a divorce or other situation, such as the incarceration of one parent, should not allow a custodial parent to terminate a grandparent/child relationship.
There are legitimate reasons for parents not wanting their children to see their grandparents, and if these reasons exist, the grandparents must try to compromise. If the grandparents and parents have a difficult relationship, the parents may argue that visitation is a destabilizing influence on the child. Grandparents who make cutting remarks about a parent, ignore a parent’s decisions regarding their children, drink, use drugs, or exhibit other negative behaviors may find the parents adamant in their refusal to allow visitation. If possible, agreeing to family therapy may help defuse the situation.
Mediation and Grandparent Visitation
After the grandparents file their application, a court hearing is scheduled. Most judges want the parents and grandparents to come to a decision via mediation. Attorneys do not attend mediation hearings, which usually take place within 60 days of the court’s referral. If the parties cannot come to an agreement through mediation, the case heads back to family court for a judge’s decision.