Grandparents' right of visitation in Oklahoma

Grandparents' often get the best of both worlds-spending time with a beloved grandchild while not being full responsible for the day-to-day care-but sometimes the ability of a grandparent to see a grandchild can be threatened by a deteriorating relationship between the grandparent and parent. In circumstances where the relationship between a parent and a grandparent are severely strained and there is worry for the grandchild's needs or safety, a grandparent may be able to pursue a court order of visitation.

Generally, grandparents do not have any legal rights associated with grandchildren because parents have the fundamental right to decide who their children will or will not visit. Therefore, the rights of a parent trump the wishes of the grandparent concerning grandchildren. However, there are limited circumstances in which a grandparent may be able to acquire the right of visitation under Oklahoma law.

Grandparents' right of visitation in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, a court may grant a grandparent the right to visitation if three elements are met. A grandparent must demonstrate that:

  • The parent is unfit, or the grandchild will be significantly harmed without the legal ability to visit
  • The visitation is in the grandchild's best interest
  • The grandchild's immediate family has been disrupted

Establishing whether there is enough evidence to meet the above elements is a fact intensive process, and if there is not sufficient evidence to demonstrate just one element, the parent retains the right to refuse visitation to the grandparent.

Parental unfitness can be demonstrated in several ways. A parent may be considered unfit if she or he has a drug or alcohol dependency that is not being addressed, or if the parent has a history of domestic abuse. Parental unfitness for the requirements of grandparent visitation does not need to rise to the level associated with the termination of parental rights and is therefore a lower standard.

Unfortunately, being the world's best grandparent is not enough to show that visitation is in your grandchild's best interest. The court determines whether visitation is in a grandchild's best interest by examining some factors, including:

  • The needs of your grandchild
  • The length, quality and closeness between the grandparent and grandchild
  • The willingness of the grandparent to encourage a close relationship between the grandchild and parent
  • The age and reasonable preference of the grandchild

In addition, certain facts demonstrate whether the immediate or nuclear family has been disrupted. Examples of family disruption are:

  • Termination of one or both parents' parental rights
  • One of the parents going to prison
  • One of the parents dying
  • A pending or finalized divorce, legal separation or annulment between the two parents

Establishing a grandparent's right to visitation is not the same as obtaining full child custody or adopting the grandchild. In addition, if a grandparent is granted the right of visitation, a parent may later file a request to terminate the grandparent's right to visitation. The parent would have to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances and the termination of the visitation is in the grandchild's best interest.

If you want to legally protect your relationship with your grandchild, contact an experienced family law attorney who will review the circumstance of your relationship and provide legal guidance on the visitation process.