Many grandparents and other extended family members are uncertain of their rights to visit and spend time with their grandchildren. People who have maintained close relationships with their grandchildren may be particularly anxious when they are suddenly prevented from seeing them regularly, or at all. Our New Jersey family law attorneys can help grandparents in Westfield and other areas of the state seek visitation time with their grandchildren. At Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, our dedicated attorneys can provide comprehensive legal guidance to address your concerns.Visitation and Custody Rights for New Jersey Grandparents
A child’s parents have a fundamental right to autonomy when making decisions about how to raise their child, which is a right that is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Historically, there was no legal recourse for grandparents who were prevented from maintaining contact with their children. However, recognizing that the relationship between a grandchild and his or her grandparents is often essential to the child, New Jersey has enacted a statute to allow grandparents of a child residing in this state to petition the court for visitation rights.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, a grandparent requesting visitation has the burden to prove that visitation is in the best interest of the child. The court may consider many factors in making its determination, including the relationship between the child and the grandparent, the motives of the grandparent in seeking visitation, the relationship between the child’s parents and the grandparent, the amount of time that has passed since the child had contact with the grandparent, the effect that visitation will have on the relationship between the child and the child’s parents, the parenting time arrangement between the child’s parents, and any history of abuse or neglect by the grandparent. Significantly, the statute also provides that if a grandparent was once the child’s full-time caretaker, this is prima facie evidence that visitation is in the best interest of the child.
In consideration of a parent’s fundamental right to family autonomy, New Jersey courts grant visitation rights with caution. If the child’s parents oppose visitation, the grandparents will have the burden to establish that visitation is necessary to avoid harm to the child. New Jersey courts have generally allowed grandparents seeking visitation to conduct discovery in attempting to meet this burden. If the burden is met, the parent is required to offer the grandparents a reasonable visitation schedule. If the visitation schedule is accepted by the grandparents, it will become memorialized by the court. Should the grandparents disagree, the court will evaluate the reasonableness of the proposed visitation schedule and approve a plan that it finds to be in the child’s best interest.Consult an Experienced New Jersey Divorce Attorney
If you need a lawyer for visitation or another child custody issue in Westfield, Summit or elsewhere in New Jersey, the New Jersey divorce lawyers at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper have the skill and knowledge to assist you. We also operate an office in Red Bank, Monmouth County. Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper can represent people in communities such as Holmdel, New Providence, East Hanover, Bridgewater, North Brunswick, and Livingston, among others. Call us at (908) 233-6800 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.