In Florida, grandparents have little to no say when it comes to having visitation rights to their grandchildren. However, Florida Statute § 752.011 provides the legal basis in which a grandparent may petition the court for court-ordered visitation with or custody of their grandchild.
Statutory Grounds for Grandparent Visitation:
Florida Statute § 752.011 governs the laws when it comes to grandparents rights to their grandchildren.
When can a grandparent petition for court-ordered visitation?
Pursuant to Florida Statute § 752.011, a grandparent of a minor child may petition the court for court-ordered visitation with the grandchild when:
The child’s parents are deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state; OR one of the child’s parents is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state AND the other parent has been convicted of a felony or an offense of violence evincing behavior that poses a substantial threat of harm to the minor child’s health or welfare.
Parental unfitness or significant harm to the child:
When it comes to custody proceedings involving the child’s parents, a judge could transfer custody to a grandparent if doing so would be in the child’s best interests, and the parent has been deemed unfit, or the parent (or parents) poses a danger to the child.
On the filing of a petition for grandparent visitation, the trial court must hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether the petitioner has made a prima facie showing of parental unfitness or significant harm to the child.
After conducting a final hearing on the issue of visitation, the court may award reasonable visitation to the grandparent with respect to the minor child if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the following three circumstances exist:
- (1) The child’s parent is unfit or there is significant harm to the child.
- (2) Visitation is in the best interest of the child.
- (3) The visitation will not materially harm the parent-child relationship.
If no such showing has been made, the court must dismiss the petition. See Florida Statute § 752.011(1). However, if the court finds that there is prima facie evidence that a parent is unfit or that there is significant harm to the child, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem and must refer the matter to family mediation. See Florida Statute§ 752.011(2). If family mediation does not successfully resolve the issue of grandparent visitation, the court must proceed with a final hearing.
Rights in Dependency Proceedings:
A grandparent or step-grandparent can have reasonable visitation with a dependent grandchild taken from parental custody. This is true unless the court deems the visitation not in the child’s best interest or disruptive to the case plan. See Florida Statute § 39.509; see also Florida Statute § 39.01(11).
Grandparent visitation may take place in the grandparents’ home unless there is a compelling reason for denying home visitation. See Florida Statute 39.509(1). If a grandparent tries to set up a meeting between the dependent child and the child’s parent or guardian against a court order, future visitation rights for the grandparent will end automatically. See Florida Statute § 39.509(3).
A parent who is “missing” under Florida Statute § 752.011 is a parent whose whereabouts are unknown for a period of at least ninety (90) days, and who has not been located after a diligent search and inquiry.
To search for a missing person, you must make inquiries to the parent’s relatives who the petitioner can reasonably identify. You also need to check with hospitals where the parent last lived and reach out to the parent’s recent employers. Additionally, consult state and federal agencies likely to know about the parent, as well as utility and postal providers. You should also conduct a thorough search on an electronic database designed for finding people and contact relevant law enforcement agencies.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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