Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in New Jersey?
Unconditional love and support, important life lessons, and passing down family traditions—these types of interactions between a grandparent and grandchild can create a one-of-a-kind bond that transcends generations.
However, strained family dynamics can create challenges for grandparent relationships. A divorced or separated mother might not feel comfortable bringing her children to visit her former in-laws. A father who disagrees with his parents’ political or religious beliefs might choose to limit their interactions with his children. Or, one parent may die, leaving the remaining parent in charge of maintaining contact between the surviving grandparents and their grandchildren.
These situations can be both emotional and nuanced, balancing the imperative to protect the best interest of the child with grandparent rights. For this reason, these scenarios must be weighed carefully. The guidance of an experienced family law attorney can help families better understand their unique situation and their options for moving forward.
Grandparent rights in New Jersey
If you’re a grandparent whose family circumstances are affecting your ability to spend time with your grandchildren, you may feel a range of emotions such as grief, anger, or frustration. You might also be wondering whether you have any rights in this situation, and if so, what they are.
Like many other states, New Jersey supports the parents’ right to decide what’s best for their children, including where and with whom they spend their time. Still, when parents prevent a grandparent from spending time with a child, the state does allow that grandparent to seek legal visitation rights.
If you’re interested in seeking court-ordered visitation of your grandchild, an experienced family law attorney can help you better understand your rights and, if appropriate, assist you with the process of pursuing court-ordered visitation.
Barring any history of emotional or physical abuse, parents are often at a legal advantage in these situations. Because parental rights generally take precedence over those of a grandparent, seeking legal counsel is crucial.
Can grandparents sue for visitation rights?
Grandparent visitation rights in New Jersey do exist, but they aren’t automatic. You must first file an application with the Superior Court in the county where your grandchild lives. It’s important to note that filing the application does not guarantee that the Superior Court will grant your request.
You and your attorney will need to prove that spending time together is not only in your grandchild’s best interest, but that the lack of contact with you would ultimately be harmful to your children.
You’ll also need to attend a hearing, at which the court will weigh many factors, including:
- The best interests of the child
- The length and quality of your relationship with the child
- How much time has elapsed since the child last had contact with you
- Objections raised by the child’s parents
- Any history of interference with the parent-child relationship
- Any history of neglect or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse toward the child while in your care
- Your ability to provide a stable, loving environment
- Evidence of harm that the child may face if you’re granted visitation rights
- A history of mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse
- Any expert testimony or other evidence that supports the factors listed above
Constitutional limits on third-party visitation
Originally, courts interpreted New Jersey’s statute on visitation rights for grandparents and siblings with an emphasis on the child’s best interests. However, a closer examination of federal law has led to some changes.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects parents’ fundamental right to direct the care, upbringing, and education of their children—a right that was upheld by the Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000). In the case, the Supreme Court reviewed a Washington State third-party visitation statute and decided that a “best interests” test is not sufficient to override a parent’s constitutional right to make decisions about their children. Instead, grandparents and other third parties seeking visitation rights must prove that visitation is necessary to prevent harm to the child.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, New Jersey’s Superior Court no longer awards visitation to grandparents solely based on the best interests of the child. Instead, the court follows the Supreme Court’s example and places the onus on the grandparent to prove that the child is at risk of genuine harm if visitation is not granted.
Do you have questions about grandparents’ visitation rights in New Jersey? Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski is here to help.
Whether you’re a grandparent seeking visitation or a parent with concerns about allowing a relationship between your child and their grandparent, visitation matters can be emotionally charged.
Our compassionate, knowledgeable family law attorneys are well-versed in the state and federal laws that impact grandparents’ rights in New Jersey and are experienced in representing both parents and grandparents in the courtroom. Our team can help you navigate the situation and work on your behalf to reach the best possible outcome for your child or grandchild.
For more guidance about your unique family matter, please contact us to schedule your consultation with our team today.