In Montana, grandparents can petition the Court for visitation rights with a grandchild, even over the objections of a parent. This is called third-party contact, and it is usually something a parent decides on. But sometimes, family situations require that the Court step in and make a decision that is in the child’s best interests. Obviously, the best result is when everyone can agree and get along, but the reality is that this isn’t always the way it happens. As a grandparent, taking the time to establish your rights can mean the difference between a life-long relationship and estrangement.
A grandparent who wants the Court to order contact with his or her grandchild, must first have the judge determine if the parent is fit. If a parent adequately cares for her child, she is fit. If he does not, he is not fit.
If the parent is unfit, then the contact must just be in the best interests of the child. If the parent is fit, the grandparent needs to show that the visits are in the child’s best interests and also needs to rebut a presumption that the parent’s wishes are what’s best for the child. This is in keeping with the Unites States Supreme Court’s decision in Troxel v. Granville.
In Troxel, the father committed suicide in Washington state leaving behind two daughters and their mother (whom he had not married). The mother married and her new husband adopted the children and limited the father’s parents visitation rights. The US Supreme Court found that the Washington State law was too broad and said that it infringed on parental rights. This has become the standard that all the states must follow and which Montana does. If a parent is fit, the grandparent must overcome a significant burden.
If you are a grandparent who is being denied visitation with your grandchild, contact a montana family law attorney to learn more about your rights. If you’re not ready to take such a drastic step, there are other options to consider. Some families have had success with mediation (either with a trained mediator, or even a family priest or pastor). Sometimes, just sitting down as a family for a frank discussion about the problems can sometimes produce good results as well.
It’s also important to remember that law differ from state to state. While you may have a friend who went through the process in another state, their experience may have been wildly different from what you will experience here in the big sky state. Just remember, the best way to know what your rights are as a grandparent in Montana is to discuss the situation with a local lawyer.