Being denied contact with your grandchildren is devastating, especially if you have previously enjoyed a close relationship with them. While the New Jersey family courts almost always uphold a parent's right to some level of contact with their children, the same cannot be said for grandparents. In fact, until 1993, the New Jersey Grandparent Statute allowed legal visitation for grandparents only in the event of a divorce/ separation, or a parent's death. The 1993 amendment removed these conditions from the law, but there is still a very high standard that needs to be met in order for grandparents to be granted legal visitation.
According to N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, judges must consider 8 factors when examining a grandparent's application for visitation:
- The bond or relationship between the child and the grandparent.
- The relationship between the grandparent and each of the child's parents.
- How much time has elapsed since the child has last seen the grandparent.
- How the visitation would affect the child's relationship with each of the parents.
- If the parents are divorced or separated, how the visitation would affect the current custody and parenting time arrangement.
- Whether the application is being made in “good faith”, meaning without malicious intent or ulterior motives.
- Any history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse by the grandparent.
- All other factors relevant in determining the child's best interests.
There are no specific guidelines for determining these factors, but the heaviest focus will be on the child's best interests, as is typical of any legal decision that involves children. For example, would your grandchild benefit emotionally from having regular and consistent contact with you? If so, would these benefits outweigh the tensions that may be created between the child and the parents, with whom you currently do not get along? The other critical factors are the relationship between the child and grandparent, and the amount of time that has elapsed since the last visit. If, for example, you have not had contact with your grandchild for several years, to the point where your grandchild barely remembers you, enforced visitations may be considered disruptive to the child's life. On the other hand, if you two had a close relationship until the parent's divorce was finalized last year, the judge may consider it beneficial for the child to continue having a relationship with you.
These are only hypothetical situations that may or may not be relevant to your own circumstances. There are also numerous legal dilemmas that you should consider before filing a court motion. While it's understandable that you want to see your grandchild, the legal process can be emotionally taxing on all the involved parties. An experienced family law attorney can explain your right and legal options, and help you decide whether going to court is truly in the best interests of your grandchild. The attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. will be happy to assist you with these issues during a free initial consultation.