Grandparents’ rights in Texas
Of course, grandparents and grandchildren can form extremely tight emotional bonds. Grandparents can be as important as parents for some kids, depending on the family situation. When divorce or separation happens, or other circumstances prevent contact between grandchildren and their grandparents, it can naturally be hard on both the children and grandparents.
In these types of situations, many states have laws governing what kinds of rights grandparents have to having their grandchildren live with them or to being able to visit with them.
The Texas Practice Guide describes that grandparents’ rights to their grandchildren in the state are “limited to specific fact situations” that arise when the “original family unit is fractured,” but that a grandparent does not have intervention rights when the core family is healthy and the kids doing well. Good parents in stable families are given the latitude to decide if grandparent-grandchild contact is right for the children.
Grandparents are not automatically given an explicit legal right to visit their grandchildren when the parents divorce, even if the parent unrelated to that pair of grandparents has primary physical custody of the child. Such grandparents might be concerned that their former daughter- or son-in-law may not encourage visits between those grandparents and the children, sometimes because of difficult family issues that may have emerged during the split.
Generally, the law provides that a suit for grandparent possession or access may be brought and it may in special circumstances be granted when it is in the best interest of the grandchild. The family court might find visitation in the child’s interest, for example, if the child had lived with the grandparents, or if a strong bond exists between the elders and the grandchild. Either the petitioning grandparents must show that denying their access would be physically or emotionally harmful to the grandchild, or the parent or parents or other person with custodial rights may consent to the grandparental petition.
Even if these circumstances are not present, a grandparent may petition for possession or access in situations such as where the parents have divorced under a general law giving that right to certain types of people. For example, this may be appropriate where both parents have died or the grandchild has lived with the grandparent for at least six months.
Another scenario where grandparent contact becomes an issue is when one of the parents dies and that parent’s parents still want access to their grandchildren even after the surviving parent remarries. Texas adoption law specifically protects the biological grandparent’s (or grandparent-by-adoption’s) right to access to his or her grandchildren even if the kids are adopted by a stepparent.
Similarly, the termination of a parent’s rights to his or her child does not sever the access rights of that parent’s parents.
In a narrower situation, the law establishes a process for grandparents to petition for grandchild custody, called “managing conservatorship” in Texas, and visitation, called possession, access or “possessory conservatorship” in Texas, when the parent that is the offspring of those grandparents is unavailable to the child such as because of death, incarceration, termination of parental rights or incompetence. This law presumes that the remaining parent is acting in the child’s best interest by denying access by his or her in-laws, and the petitioning grandparents must overcome this presumption by showing that denying them contact with the child would “significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.”
Beyond grandparent rights to visitation, sometimes a Texas family court might decide that grandparents should have actual legal custody of a grandchild. For example, a grandparent may sue to get custody of a grandchild away from the parent or parents by showing that being with the parents is physically or emotionally harmful. Specifically, a “history of family violence” overcomes the legal presumption that it is in a child’s best interest to live with his or her parents.
In most situations, step grandparents do not have the same legal rights as biological or adoptive grandparents.
This article has just touched on the complicated legal rights of grandparents in Texas. If you are a grandparent being denied access to your grandchild, or if you are a parent trying to prevent grandparent contact, speak with an experienced Texas family law attorney to understand your potential legal remedies.