Grandparents have rights in Virginia. In child custody disputes, a grandparent may take primary custody of a grandchild, even if custody must be taken away from the parents. The courts recognize that when parents are unable to properly care for their children, the best alternative and hope for the children is to live with their grandparents.
Often, parents face problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, untreated mental illness, or incarceration. Many times, parents in this situation rely too heavily on their own parents for help with child rearing. They might drop off their children for extended stays with the grandparents and then demand them back. This creates a very difficult situation for children.
To put it simply, Virginia courts use “the best interest of the child” test to determine custody and visitation. This test analyzes twelve factors in determining where a child will live and who will be responsible for the most important decisions in his or her life. These factors are set forth in the Virginia Code § 20-124.3. If you want to look over this important code yourself, go to https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode. In the search box, type 20-124.3. There you will see the factors that the court will consider when deciding on custody for either parents or grandparents. Pay close attention to factor number 4. This states that the court will give weight to important family relationships that the children have developed with people other than their parents. This section is often very important when grandparents are fighting for custody or visitation.
It is not easy on anyone when grandparents must fight their own children for custody of their grandchildren. It will never be an easy undertaking, legally or emotionally. It may require that the grandparents go to court and potentially testify against their own children. However, the judicial system has evolved greatly over the years to protect the interests of children. The court procedures are set up to be as easy as possible on them. Often a guardian ad litem will be appointed to make sure that the children’s interests are represented to the court. All court room personnel are trained to make sure that the children will be taken care of throughout the proceeding.
The goal of family court is to reunite families if at all possible. To keep custody, a party will have to show that their home is safe and that they can care for a child. If someone in the family has a problem with drugs, then the court will order drug testing, and possibly treatment. A court can also order inpatient drug treatment. A guardian ad litem plays an important role in making sure that children are being cared for while custody is in dispute. It is a very serious undertaking to remove custody from parents. They must be found to be unfit for parenting. This does not mean that they can never reunite with their children, however. Often parents with problems who get treatment are reunited with their own children. The courts have had many successes in giving grandparents the rights that they need to raise grandchildren, temporarily and permanently. When grandparents represent the “best interests of the child,” then they should not be afraid to file for custody of that child.