Supporting Extended Family Relationships During Divorce
Divorce affects a family beyond the divorcing couple and their children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins might all fear the loss of contact with children and an ex-spouse after a divorce.
In many cases, the law cannot address the loss of these extended family relationships. Instead, it falls upon the parents to try to maintain these relationships in the best interests of the child.
But in some circumstances, you can involve a court to mandate visitation time to ensure that a relationship between a child and their extended family member can continue.
Here is some information about the ways in which the law can support extended family relationships during and after a divorce.
Agreement of the Spouses
Nothing prevents the ex-spouses from using their time to visit extended relatives. The divorcing couple can also agree to include extended family in their visitation schedule. If the child’s maternal grandparents go camping every July, the schedule can give Mom the month of July. Mom can then send the child with her parents for that month.
The benefits of an agreement between the spouses include:
- No disputes over where the children go and who they visit
- It sets a good example for the children
- The agreement allows the children to enjoy the widest range of experiences
The drawback is that both spouses must agree to this. If one parent does not like the other parent’s family, that parent might create barriers to the relationship.
Moreover, if one parent dies, the surviving parent could cut off contact between the children and the deceased parent’s extended family. Unfortunately, the deceased parent’s family probably has no legal recourse to fix this problem, with one specific exception, which we’ll discuss shortly.
Grandparents’ Visitation Rights
Michigan has long supported visitation rights for grandparents. Michigan’s first grandparents’ visitation law was struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2003 because it was too broad.
Michigan’s legislature passed a new grandparents’ visitation law in 2004. Grandparents can use this law to gain visitation with grandchildren if they overcome three hurdles:
Grandparents’ Visitation Law Must Apply
The grandparents must fall into a category in which grandparents’ visitation rights can exist. One of the categories includes the divorce of the parents. Other circumstances in which grandparents can petition for visitation include:
- The parent related to the grandparents is deceased
- The parents were never married, did not live together, and paternity was legally established
- Someone other than the child’s parent, such as a foster parent, has custody
- The grandparent raised the child in the year before the grandparent filed the petition, even if the grandparent did not have legal custody
If any of these circumstances apply, grandparents can seek visitation, even if the parents did not divorce.
Grandparents Must Overcome a Presumption in Favor of a Parent’s Decision
The grandparents must prove that denying visitation will create a substantial risk of harm to the child’s mental, physical, or emotional health.
Grandparents Must Prove That Visitation Serves the Child’s Best Interests
The court must consider ten factors to determine whether time with the grandparents will serve the child’s best interests. The factors include:
- The emotional ties with the grandparent
- The prior relationship with the grandparent
- The grandparent’s mental and physical health
- The child’s preferences
- The reason that the parent has denied grandparent visitation
If a court finds that these factors favor contact with the grandparent, it will order reasonable visitation.
Legal Support for Extended Family During a Divorce
The law provides little support for visitation by extended family. But in some circumstances, a grandparent’s relationship with a child can provide the basis for a family lawyer to petition the court for visitation. When you want an experienced and knowledgeable family lawyer on your side, reach out to Gucciardo Family Law. Contact us to learn more about grandparents’ visitation rights in Michigan.
Too much information?
We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.