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How Grandparents can gain court-ordered visitation of a grandchild

Contributed by Deborah R. Eisenberg

Our firm often receives calls from loving grandparents who, after being denied contact with a grandchild by one or both of the grandchild's parents, ask how they can obtain court-ordered visitation. Connecticut law sets forth a two-prong test that grandparents must meet in order to be granted visitation. While such a test may seem burdensome to the grandparent, the test is designed to safeguard parents' rights against unwarranted intrusions into their authority.

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Under Connecticut General Statutes §46b-59, grandparents or any third parties, may petition the court for visitation rights. The grandparent must allege in the petition that:

(1) he or she has a parent-like relationship with the minor child and

(2) denial of visitation would cause real and significant harm.

After an evidentiary hearing, the court will grant visitation with a minor child if the grandparent shows by clear and convincing evidence that a parent-like relationship exists between the person and the minor child and denial of visitation would cause real and significant harm.

To prove that he or she has a parent-like relationship with the minor child, the grandparent must describe in detail their relationship: Was the grandparent the child's caregiver for a period of time, or did the child reside with the grandparent? What parent-like responsibilities did the grandparent have? For how long was the grandparent involved in the child's life? For how long has the relationship been disrupted? What is the grandparent's fitness? The parent's fitness? It is important, too, for the grandparent to prove that he or she had never unreasonably undermined the authority of the custodial parent.

Regarding the second prong, the degree of emotional harm that the grandparent must show requires more than a determination that visitation would be in the child's best interest. The degree of harm that would result from the denial of visitation must be of a level that could justify over-ruling a fit parent's visitation decision. The grandparent must show, by clear and convincing evidence that, for example, the child is abused, neglected, or uncared for - in fact, the same level of harm that would allow the state to assume custody in abuse and neglect proceedings in Juvenile Court.

Please call for a consultation if you would like us to assess the likelihood of prevailing on a request for visitation.

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