Grandparent Visitation – Who has rights?

In Michigan, a grandparent may seek a court order for visitation with their grandchildren under one of the following circumstances: (1) an action for divorce, separate maintenance or annulment involving the child’s parents is pending before the court; (2) the child’s parents are divorced, separated under a judgment of separate maintenance or have had their marriage annulled; (3) the child’s parent who is a child of the grandparent is deceased; (4) the child’s parents were never married, are not residing in the same household, and paternity has been established; (5) legal custody has been given to someone other than the parent, or the child is placed outside of and does not reside in the home of a parent; or (6) in the year proceeding commencement of an action under this statute, the grandparent provided an established custodial environment for the child, whether or not pursuant to a court order.

A recent court decision may make it more difficult for grandparents to pursue their legal rights. This case involved a deceased father, whose parental rights had been terminated due to physical abuse. The parents ultimately divorced, and the father passed away a few years later. Following their son’s death, the grandparent’s sought to secure visitation with their grandchildren. Although it may appear that the grandparent’s had standing since their son, the child’s parent, was deceased, the Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court held that, since the father’s rights had been terminated, he was not a “legal parent” of the children. Since the father was not a legal parent, the grandparents are not legal grandparents and have no basis to seek visitation with the children.

Based on the Court’s opinion in this case, perhaps the Legislature should review the current laws regarding grandparent visitation, specifically defining the term “legal parent.” This is yet another example of how a carefully drafted law can be interpreted in a number of different ways based on very specific circumstances.