In many families a grandparent can become an essential caregiver to a child. This can often happen temporarily when one parent is unavailable because of work, illness, or incarceration. Or it can be permanent because of the death of one parent. In some cases children are raised by their grandparents for years, creating a natural bond between the child and grandparents that would be harmful to both if broken.
But life is a constant change. The remaining parent may have been happy to have grandparents help out with the kids for years, but a remarriage, new partner, or falling out with the ex's grandparents might cause that parent to break the children's relationship with their grandparents.
In a situation like this, being cut off from their grandparents is likely to be emotional, and probably harmful to the children who have seen the grandparents as virtual parents. Fortunately there is a law for cases like this when the loss of time with grandparents is likely to harm the child physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Six Paths to a Grand Parenting Time Order
There are six possible ways for a grandparent to be able to go to court and get a parenting time order. These paths are spelled out in MCL 722.27b(1)(a-f).
- There is a pending court case for divorce, annulment, or separate maintenance. If one of the parents has filed for divorce or separation, a grandparent has the right to file a motion and having a hearing in that case for parenting time.
- The parents are already divorced or legally separated. If the parents already finalized a divorce, grandparents can also go to court for a parenting time order. In most cases they should just be able to file a motion in court under the case number for that divorce.
- The grandparent's child who was the parent of the grandchild has passed away. Along with divorce, death is the most likely reason a grandparent may need a court order to see the grandchild. The grandparent may have been extremely close to the children, but if the remaining parent didn't get along with them for some reason, they can easily deny the grandparents any time with their grandchildren.
- The parents have never been married, are currently not living together, and there is legal proof of paternity. In some cases, especially with young parents, the parents both relied on a grandparent to help raise the children. Over time, the parents may separate, and the parent who has custody of the children might feel they have the right to deny their ex's parents time with the children.
- Someone other than a parent has custody of the child, or the child is not living with a parent. This can be the case where the parents are in prison, in a hospital, mentally unwell, dealing with addiction, been judged unfit, or just missing. Child Protective Services, or a court, may decide to place the children with someone other than the grandparents, but the grandparents still have the right to seek time with their grandchildren. This can often be the easiest case for a grandparent to win. If there is no parent opposing the grandparenting time, the grandparent does not need to prove harm to the child, just that it would be in the child's interests to spend time with their grandparent.
- In the last year, the child lived with the grandparents. Even if the grandparents didn't have legal custody of the child, if they "provided an established custodial environment for the child" then the grandparent can seek grandparenting time.
The rights of the parents
The purpose of this law is to protect children from the harm they might suffer if they weren't allowed to spend time with their grandparents. Proving that is the hard part.
Your grandchildren may love you, and they may be sad if you weren't allowed to see them, but the law gives preference to the parents. Unless a grandparent can prove a "substantial risk of harm" to a child, they will not be able to get a grandparenting time order if a parent opposes it.
You have to get it right the first time
Getting a grandparenting time order is a complex process. The law only lets grandparents try for this once every 2 years. You don't want to try this yourself and have to wait two years to try again. This is a case where a skilled lawyer is vital, because you need to make your best case the very first time.