Read LawNovember 17, 2021
Grandparents’ Rights in Utah
For many Utah grandparents, there is no love like a grandparent’s love for a grandchild. Many grandparents we know describe the experience of spending time with their grandchildren as even better than parenting. Studies have shown that having a relationship with grandparents can have a positive effect on children. Unfortunately for many grandparents, issues with their adult children can get in the way of them spending time with their grandchildren. If their children break up or divorce, they may lose their ability to see their grandchildren. Can grandparents have visitation rights under Utah law?
How Can Grandparents Obtain Visitation Rights in Utah?
The short answer to this question is it depends. There are some conditions and limitations involved. Under Utah law, grandparents, do you have the standing to bring an action requesting visitation with a grandchild. Grandparents can file a petition in district court. Grandparents can also file a petition for visitation rights in juvenile court or district court where the divorce proceeding or other legal proceeding involving child custody is pending.
In Utah, parents have the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education. Since parents enjoy this fundamental right, courts are required to presume that the appearance decision regarding grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interest. Suppose a parent decides that it is not beneficial for their child to be around their grandparents. The courts must presume that the parent’s decision is in the best interests of the child.
However, grandparents do have the right to try to overcome this presumption. A Utah court may overrule the parent’s decision to stop the grandparent from seeing the grandchild in certain circumstances. Grandparents must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that:
- The grandparent filled the role of caretaker or custodian to the grandchild that is in a manner akin to a parent, and
- The loss of the relationship between the grandchild and grandparents would cause substantial harm to the grandchild, or
- Both parents are unfit or incompetent in a matter that causes potential harm to the grandchild
Suppose a court evaluates the evidence and finds that the presumption has been rebutted. In that case, the court has the right to consider whether allowing visitation for grandparents is in that grandchild the best interest. When courts are determining whether to grant grandparent’s visitation, they must take the following circumstances into account:
- The reasonableness of the parent’s decision to deny grandparent visitation
- The grand child’s age
- The death or unavailability of the parents, and
- If the grandchild is 14 years or older, the grandchild wishes regarding visitation with the grandparent
What Happens After Visitation Has Been Granted
If the court decides that the presumption has been rebutted and that visitation was a grandparent is in the grandchild’s best interest, they can issue an order for grandparent visitation. Once the court issues an order, the parent with custody of the child or children must allow the grandparent to visit according to the order. A parent may not comply with the order by continuing to deny the grandparent visitation with the grandchild. If this happens, the grandparent has the right to petition the court to remedy a parent’s wrongful non-compliance with a grandparent visitation order.
What if a Child Has Been Adopted?
Utah law explicitly states that the grandchild’s adoption by the grandchild step-parent does not diminish or alter any of the visitation rights the grandparent may have.
Can a Grandparent Visitation Order be Modified?
Yes, just as any other child custody order can be modified, an order granting a grandparent visitation can be modified. The grandparents or the legal custodian of the grandchild may file a petition to modify the custody agreement if:
- The circumstances of the grandparents, grandchild or the custodian have substantially and materially changed since the court entered the visitation order, or
- The visitation order has become inappropriate or unworkable under existing circumstances, and
- The court determines that a modification is appropriate
Will I Be Granted Visitation With My Grandchild?
It is challenging to petition the court to grant visitation as a grandparent. As mentioned above, Utah courts take parental rights extremely seriously. When a grandparent has acted akin to a parent, only in very rare circumstances will the court allow grandparent visitation. Even if you have an extremely strong relationship with your grandchild and spend time with him or her regularly, there is no guarantee that a court will grant you visitation.
Utah courts have ruled repeatedly that unless the grandparent’s visitation is shown to be harmful to the grandchild, the grandparent’s rights do not supersede the parent’s fundamental right to make decisions regarding their child. However, if you want to have visitation rights with your grandchild, it is worth discussing your case with an experienced family law attorney. You may be able to provide evidence showing that denying your ability to see your grandchildren is causing them harm. You may be able to overcome the presumption that your child’s parents have the right to deny you from seeing them, especially if you have acted as a parent to your grandchild in the past.
Contact a Utah Grandparent Visitation Attorney
Grandparent visitation rights are one of the more complicated areas of Utah family law. If you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights, our family law attorneys are here to help. We will walk you through Utah’s grandparent’s right statute, so you can understand the process. If you have a case for grandparents’ rights, we can help you petition the court to award you visitation with your grandchild. We can also assist you with modifying a current visitation order. Do not delay! We would be happy to discuss your case with you and help you understand all of your legal options.