Grandparent Child Custody Rights in California

The relationship between a grandparent and grandchild is an important relationship for many children.  Sadly, there are times when a child’s parents or distressing circumstances prevent loving grandparents from seeing their grandchildren.  If there is an existing bond between the grandparents and grandchild, then grandparents can petition the court for visitation rights under limited circumstances.

California allows grandparents to petition the courts for visitation rights in some situations.  If the child’s parents die, the grandparents can petition for visitation rights.  Grandparents can also ask for visitation if there is a pending family law case where child custody is at issue.  California also allows for grandparents to request visitation rights if the parents are not married or the parents are not living together.  In most cases, grandparents cannot petition for visitation rights if the child’s parents are married and living together, but there are a few exceptions.  Grandparents can petition for visitation if one parent’s whereabouts have been uncertain for over a month, or if the child does not live with the parents.  Grandparents can also petition for visitation if the parents are married and one parent joins the petition.  Lastly, grandparents can petition for visitation if the child has been adopted by a stepparent.

How Grandparents Can Petition for Visitation Rights

If there is an active family law case where custody of the child is at issue, the grandparents can petition for visitation rights by joining the case to get visitation orders.  Grandparents can join the case by filing a Petition for Joinder, Summons (Joinder) (FL-375), and a Notice of Motion and Declaration for Joinder (FL-371).  The Petition for Joinder is not a standard form in California courts.  The petition will need to be customized on court pleading paper.

If there is no active family law case, grandparents can ask the court for visitation rights by filing a Petition/Complaint for Grandparent Visitation, Summons (FL-210), Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105), and Request for Order (FL-300).  Like the Joinder, a Petition for Grandparent Visitation is not a form standard California form, but some local courts do have a Petition for Grandparent Visitation form.  The petition must be filed in the county where the child lives.  The court will charge a filing fee, and the grandparents will need to serve a copy of the petition on both parents.  The grandparents will need to file a Proof of Service (FL-330) with the court before the hearing.

When deciding a grandparent’s petition for visitation rights, the court employs a balancing test, balancing the best interest of the child to have a continued relationship with the grandparents against the rights of the parents to make decisions about how to raise their child.  If both parents are alive and oppose grandparents’ visitation, then the court will likely deny the petition.  Even if the court grants grandparents’ visitation rights, if circumstances change, the parents can request that the court end the visitation rights.

Contact San Diego Esquire for more information about how to obtain a child custody order for your grandchild at

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