Ask any grandparent and they will tell you how much joy their grandchildren bring to them. Whether called grandma and grandpa, baba and poppy, or nana and pop-pop, grandparents form special bonds with their children’s children, and the time they spend together is irreplaceable and priceless. Sometimes, however, a divorce or other troubles between parents can leave grandparents on the outside looking in. When a grandparent-grandchild relationship is disrupted and/or grandparents are prevented from seeing their grandchildren, what rights do Colorado grandparents have to restore and maintain their connection with their grandkids?
Grandparent Visitation Rights in Colorado
Colorado law recognizes the special and unique nature of a child’s relationship with their grandparents and provides a mechanism for grandparents to petition the court for relief if that relationship has been put into jeopardy due to divorce or other circumstances. But just because Colorado law gives grandparents the ability to request visitation with their grandkids does not mean that they have an automatic right to such visitation. As with any decision made by a Colorado judge regarding children, any order as to grandparent visitation must be found to be in the child’s best interests.
C.R.S. §19-1-117 provides that a grandparent can petition a Colorado family law court for reasonable grandchild visitation rights when there is or has been “a child custody case or a case concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities relating to that child.” The statute defines such a case in three ways:
- The grandchild's parents have obtained a dissolution, annulment, or legal separation,
- The child has been placed into the legal custody of someone other than a parent, or
- The child's parent, who is the child of the grandparent seeking visitation, has died.
No Right to Visitation Where Parents’ Marriage is Intact
Note that none of the three situations that can be the basis of a visitation petition involves an intact marriage in which one or both parents are refusing to allow a grandparent to see their grandkids. Unless there is a basis for finding that the parents in an existing marriage are somehow unfit or are a danger to their child, Colorado judges will not interfere with any parental decision to limit or deny grandparent visitation.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2000 that a state grandparent visitation statute was unconstitutional, as applied, because the order for grandparent visitation unjustifiably interfered with the natural mother's due process right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her children. Colorado courts have held that since C.R.S. §19-1-117 is limited to situations in which parental rights have been altered by either judicial decisions or the death of a parent, the statute ensures that grandparent visitation decisions made by parents of intact families, where there has been no prior court intervention, are not challenged.
If a court has given a grandparent visitation rights, those rights can later be modified or terminated if the child is legally adopted or a court has terminated the parental rights of the parent who is the child of the grandparent seeking visitation.
Of course, many grandparents have a relationship with their grandkids that go far beyond freely-given gifts and fun weekend afternoons. Some grandparents become parents or co-parents of their grandchildren for all practical purposes. Colorado law allows grandparents to petition for legal custody of their grandkids in very limited circumstances. Specifically, a grandparent can petition for custody if:
- Colorado authorities remove a child from a parent's home because of such things as domestic violence or neglect. In such a situation, Colorado grandparents have preference for the child's placement over other potential foster parents (but not preference over the other parent), or
- the grandparent has been providing actual physical care for a child and wants to have some of the parental responsibilities for the child, or
- the grandparent provided physical care to the child for at least 6 months within the past 6 months and wants some of the parental responsibilities over the child.
If you are a grandparent concerned about how a divorce or other circumstances may affect your relationship with your grandkids, you should reach out to an experienced Colorado divorce and family law attorney who can advise you of your rights and outline your options.