A very important and influential law was recently passed in Alabama allowing grandparents to petition for visitation of their grandchildren. As with any law, there are certain elements and criteria that must be met for a grandparent to be awarded visitation, and this blog summarizes the most important provisions of that new law.
The new grandparent visitation law can be found in the Alabama Code at §30-3-4.1, and there are many different subparts. Foremost, the law does not allow a new way for grandparents to petition for custody outside of the methods already available (dependency actions and adoptions); instead, the new law only allows for visitation. Grandparents can file an original action for visitation or may intervene in an on-going action to ask for visitation, such as a custody or divorce case between the two biological parents. It is very important to remember that the ultimate standard for reviewing these cases is the same for any other custody case: The best interests of the child!
Grandparents may file original actions for visitation if one of the following conditions are present: (1) One or both of the child’s parents are dead, (2) When the parents are divorced, (3) When one of the parents has abandoned the child, (4) When the child is born out of wedlock, and (5) When one parent uses his or her rights to prohibit a relationship between the child and grandparent. Grandparents may also intervene in on-going actions for any case involving the custody of the child with whom they seek visitation, including divorce or termination of parental rights cases.
A court will consider the following factors, among others, when making a determination as to whether or not visitation should be allowed: (1) The willingness of the grandparents to encourage a relationship between the child and parent, (2) The child’s preference, assuming the child is of a sufficient mature age, (3) Mental and physical health of the child, (4) Mental and physical health of the grandparents, (5) Evidence of domestic violence in the child’s home, (6) Parental preference.
The new law also creates a “two-year” provision prohibiting grandparents from filing multiple petitions for visitation in a short period of time. That provision states that a grandparent shall not file an original action for visitation more than once within a two-year period and shall not file any action in any year where any other custody action has been filed regarding the same children. This provision also applies to children and parents who seek to terminate grandparent visitation, meaning that an action to terminate visitation cannot be filed more than once within a two-year timeframe.
Finally, in a scenario where the parent related to the grandparents who are seeking visitation has either lost legal (not physical) or has voluntarily given up legal custody, or has financially abandoned the child, the grandparents related to such parent may not seek visitation unless they can show that they have an established relationship with the child and visitation would be in the child’s best interests.
While this law does not make it a sure thing for any grandparent to get visitation with a grandchild, it does provide a method for securing visitation that was previously unavailable, with the hope of ensuring that every kid in Alabama has a family member who is willing and able to care for them. Because the law is so new, there will likely be so many ways that it is implemented and interpreted, meaning that you will likely need a skilled Huntsville child custody attorney to help guide you. Give us a call today about your questions on this new law or any issue involving child custody and we will be happy to speak with you and help in any way we can.