Generally, parents have the right to raise their own children, free from interference by grandparents or anyone else, unless the children are abused, neglected or abandoned. But there are some exceptions.
Specifically, grandparents may have the right to grandparent visitation, that is, to set times when they will spend time with their grandchildren, or, in unusual cases, grandparents actually may be the primary custodians of their grandchildren. Most states have some type of grandparent visitation law. In Colorado, grandparents may file a court action for grandparent visitation in only two situations:
1. When the grandparents’ child (the parent of the grandchild) is deceased. In this situation, the grandparent would bring a case to establish their visitation schedule.
2. When the parents of the grandchild are divorced. In this situation, the grandparents could bring a new case, or they could intervene in the divorce case.
So, in the situation in which the parents of the children are married to each other and living together, grandparents do not have the right to intervene and seek to have a schedule adopted for grandparents’ visits.
In either type of visitation case, the grandparents must show that the visitation is in the best interest of the grandchildren. The Court generally will give wide latitude to the wishes of the parents.
Grandparents who wish to obtain custody of grandchildren have a much heavier burden or showing if they are trying to take the child or children away from a parent. In order to bring an action for custody, grandparents must show that the child was in the grandparents’ custody for at least 182 consecutive days (one-half year or six months within one year immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. This rule applies to all people seeking custody who re not the parents. Generally, someone seeking custody who is not a parent must have been acting as a parent to the child.
In general, grandparents who are receiving custody of their grandchildren are often stepping up to fill an important role in the children’s lives when the parents are deceased, in prison, suffering from addictions or other conditions that make it impossible to take care of their children, or the parents have simply abandoned the children.
Grandparents who are interested in learning more about Colorado grandparent visitation or custody should read the Colorado Grandparent visitation statute found at Colorado Revised Statutes § 19-1-117, and also the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, Colorado Revised Statutes §§ 14-13-101 through 14-13-403.
By Doris Truhlar