A common question is “do grandparents have visitation rights in Missouri?” The answer is yes. Missouri law authorizes “reasonable visitation rights to the grandparents of the child” under the appropriate circumstances.
Missouri’s grandparent visitation statute contemplates three circumstances in which a grandparent might be entitled to reasonable visitation. In the first circumstance, a court may grant grandparent visitation when the parents of the child have filed for a dissolution of their marriage (i.e. divorce). A grandparent has the right to intervene in any dissolution action solely on the issue of visitation rights. Grandparents also have the right to file a motion to modify the original decree of dissolution to seek visitation rights when visitation has been denied to them.
In the second circumstance, a court may grant grandparent visitation when one parent of the child is deceased and the surviving parent denies reasonable visitation to a parent of the deceased parent of the child.
In the third circumstance, a court may grant grandparent visitation when the child has resided in the grandparent’s home for at least six months within the twenty-four month period immediately preceding the filing of the petition and a grandparent is unreasonably denied visitation with the child for a period exceeding ninety days. Notably, the ninety day period is calculated from the date of the order, rather than the date of the filing of the petition. However, if the natural parents are legally married to each other and are living together with the child, a grandparent may not file for visitation pursuant to this subdivision.
The court’s standard in evaluating a request for grandparent visitation is whether the visitation by the grandparent would be in the child’s best interest or if it would endanger the child’s physical health or impair the child’s emotional development. Visitation may only be ordered when the court finds such visitation to be in the best interests of the child. However, when the parents of the child are legally married to each other and are living together with the child, there is a rebuttable presumption that such parents know what is in the best interest of the child. The court may order reasonable conditions or restrictions on grandparent visitation.
If the court finds it to be in the best interests of the child, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. The guardian ad litem is an attorney licensed to practice law in Missouri. The guardian ad litem may, for the purpose of determining the question of grandparent visitation rights, participate in the proceedings as if such guardian ad litem were a party. The court shall enter judgment allowing a reasonable fee to the guardian ad litem.
A home study, as described by section 452.390, may be ordered by the court to assist in determining the best interests of the child. The court may, in its discretion, consult with the child regarding the child’s wishes in determining the best interest of the child. The right of a grandparent to maintain visitation rights pursuant to this section may terminate upon the adoption of the child. The court may award reasonable attorneys fees and expenses to the prevailing party.
The Missouri Supreme Court upheld Missouri’s grandparent visitation statute in Herndon v. Tuhey. Importantly, the Court noted that Missouri’s grandparent visitation statute “contemplate[s] occasional, temporary visitation, which may only be allowed if a trial court finds visitation to be in the best interest of the child and does not endanger the child’s physical or emotional development.” The Court reaffirmed Herndon in Blakely v. Blakely and Barker v. Barker.
If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation, call or come visit the family law attorneys at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!