A variety of circumstances may cause a minor child’s grandparents to seek visitation rights. Under Fla. Stat section §752.011, a grandparent can file a petition for visitation with a minor child in cases where one or both parents are deceased, missing or in a persistent vegetative state, or where one is deceased, missing or in a persistent vegetative state and the other parent has been convicted of a felony or offense of violent behavior that could pose a substantial threat to the minor child’s health or welfare. Grandparents may also seek legal visitation rights if the fitness of a parent is in question, or a parent may pose a risk of substantial harm to the child. Furthermore, a grandparent may seek to establish a relationship with the minor child where the parent denies the grandparent visitation with the minor child
Florida law requires the court to first assess and determine whether the parents are indeed absent, unfit or could be of significant harm to the child before determining whether visitation is in the best interest of the minor child. Mediation is the preferred method to resolve grandparent visitation disputes, however, the court will proceed if mediation does not resolve the issue.
Like other family law cases involving minor children, the court is concerned with determining the best interest of the child. The statute outlines thirteen factors the court must consider including the emotional ties of the minor child and grandparent, the length and quality of the relationship, whether the grandparent previously established an ongoing personal contact with the child, and more.
Depending on the reason for seeking visitation rights, the court may also assess the potential material harm to the parent-child relationship. Just a few of the factors set forth by Florida law include whether there were previous disputes between the grandparent and parent over childrearing, if visitation would interfere with parental authority, and whether visitation can be arranged in a way that would not detract from the parent-child relationship.
Regardless of the reason for the petition, the analysis focuses on the impact of visitation on the minor child’s health and overall wellness. A Guardian Ad Litem may even be appointed to advocate and make recommendations for the best interests of the child in grandparent visitation disputes. Nonetheless, the minor child’s preference, mental, physical, and emotional health, as well as the psychological toll of the dispute on the minor child are concurring factors to be considered under the law.
Despite many valid reasons to grant visitation rights to grandparents, Florida courts will keep the best interest of the child central to its final determination.