Everybody loves a baby. In a lot of cases, there’s really nothing like a baby to bring a family together. Mom’s side, dad’s side—everybody can, sometimes, exist in perfect harmony, with everybody agreeing on one thing, at least: their love of that sweet, precious little baby. Extended family can be wonderful. Extended family can provide free, quality, loving childcare. But extended family can also be crippling, nagging, a nuisance, or, even worse, an actual, legitimate danger to your child.
Of course, it isn’t always like that. In some cases, families break down. Especially when mom and dad don’t stay together, getting time with the baby becomes more like tug o’ war for the extended family members. Grandmas and aunts are two of the categories of people we most commonly see clamoring for more time with a child. As a mom, what can you do? What should you do when your child’s father’s extended family wants visitation?
Well, to start with, what you “should” do and what you can legally do are two different things. I’m not really here to talk about the “shoulds” and, ultimately, I believe that you know best what is in your child’s best interests. No one would suggest, for example, that you send your child home with grandma just because she’s grandma if she’s also an alcoholic. Or if she’s married to husband number four, who just so happens to be a registered sex offender. “Just because she’s grandma” is not a reason to extend visitation if you’re unwilling or uncomfortable, for whatever reason.
When you and your child’s father agree on extended family visitation
If you and your child’s father, whether you’re together or you’re broken up, are united in agreement, you have very little to worry about.
Together or separated, if you agree that grandma shouldn’t have time alone with the child, grandma’s going to have a pretty difficult time getting it herself. (Keep in mind that I’m going to use grandma in most of my examples, but you could substitute grandma for “auntie” or “uncle” or other relative; in this case, it applies to a non parent relative who wants custody or visitation of the child.)
For a non parent to get visitation with a child over the parent’s objections, he or she would have to take it to court. They’d have to show that the child would suffer actual harm if he or she weren’t a part of the child’s life. It’s not just that “it would hurt the baby to not know her grandmother” or something like that; the child would have to be suffering actual, physical, measurable harm—which, as you can probably already imagine, would be incredibly difficult to show.
Probably most non parents wouldn’t go this far anyway, because it would be time consuming and expensive. So, although they may threaten to talk to a family law attorney or to pursue their rights in court, it doesn’t happen all that often. And, in most cases, even if they do pursue a legal course of action, they’re unlikely to be successful, especially since both you and your child’s father agree that this person should, for whatever reason, not be a part of the child’s life.
As parents, you and your child’s father have a lot of latitude when it comes to deciding what you think is best for the child. The court, without good reason, won’t step on your toes when it comes to making those kinds of determinations. If your child won’t suffer actual harm without this particular person in his or her life (and chances are slim that actual harm is really an issue), you’re pretty safe.
When you and your child’s father don’t agree on extended family visitation
When you and your child’s father don’t agree, you may run into problems. Obviously, it’s much, much easier to keep grandma away if you and your child’s father both share the same opinion. When you don’t, though, there can be issues.
If grandma takes you to court, you’ll have the same standard—actual harm. So, it’ll be hard for her to get court-sanctioned, specific, one on one visitation time with your child. That doesn’t mean, though, that your child’s father can’t give some of his time to her.
Maybe that’s fine with you, and maybe it’s not, but it might be difficult for you to get an order from the court completely disallowing grandma from having time with your child.
There are a lot of different issues that can come up in custody and visitation cases, so you may want to talk to a family law attorney one on one about your particular case and the reasons why you want to keep grandma (or whoever) out of your child’s life entirely. A couple options we often see, though…
1. Negotiating an agreement that doesn’t allow contact with a questionable person.
Custody can always be determined by an agreement and, if you can get your child’s father to agree to keep grandma out of the picture, you’re good to go. Even if he doesn’t agree with you, you could negotiate an agreement that says grandma won’t have one-on-one time with the child, that she won’t be used as a babysitter, or even provide case-specific details, like that she won’t drink alcohol around the child, allow her current husband to be around the child, or whatever. Keep in mind that, when it comes to agreements, there is a lot of flexibility, so it’ll be possible to negotiate specific terms that work for you and your particular situation.
2. Go to court.
If you and your child’s father can’t agree, you may have to go to court. If the person you’re trying to keep away has some bad facts, you may want to show those—anything about mental health diagnoses, substance abuse problems, criminal records, whatever—can go a long way towards making an argument that a particular person shouldn’t have contact with your child.
A lot of times, in cases where parents don’t agree, we see the nonparent get visitation—but only when the other parent gives up some of his or her time in order to allow it to happen. It can be hard to avoid letting that happen, but, if you’ve got legitimate reasons, there may be steps we can take to prevent it from happening.
For more information or to talk to one of our licensed and experienced family law and custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.