Ohio has very specific laws about grandparent visitation. In the 1994 case of “In re Martin”, the Ohio Supreme Court declared that “grandparents have no constitutional right of association with grandchildren.” The court went on to say that grandparents’ rights must be established by statute and that such rights may be exercised only when it is in the best interests of the child.
When Grandparents May Sue
In Ohio, grandparents may be granted visitation in three circumstances: when the child’s parents are unmarried; when a parent is deceased; or when the parents have divorced or separated. Grandparents have no right to sue for visitation with grandchildren who live in an intact family.
An order for visitation can be a part of several court proceedings, including divorce, dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, or child support proceeding. The suit for visitation need not be filed before the finding in the case but can instead be filed at any time.
The court may grant “reasonable companionship or visitation rights” to grandparents or to “any person related to the child by consanguinity or affinity” with the same conditions applying.
Factors Determining Best Interests
Ohio statute spells out how the child’s best interest should be determined. The court should consider factors including but not limited to the following:
- The wishes and concerns of the parents as expressed to the court
- The child’s interactions with parents and members of the extended family
- The geographical location of the grandparent’s residence and the distance from the child’s residence
- The child’s and parents’ available time, including schedules for employment, school, holidays and vacations
- The child’s age
- The child’s adjustment at home and school and in the community
- Any wishes of the child, as expressed in chambers
- The child’s health and safety
- The availability of time for the child to be with his or her siblings
- The mental and physical health of all those involved in the suit
- The willingness of the grandparent to reschedule missed visitation
- Any conviction of the grandparent or guilty plea by the grandparent involving a crime of child abuse or child neglect
- Any other factor in the best interest of the child.
In the case of unmarried parents, grandparents may seek visitation, although paternity must be acknowledged and legalized before paternal grandparents may seek visitation.
Grandparents’ Rights After Adoption
Typically, grandparents lose their visitation rights if their grandchildren are adopted, but not if they are adopted by a stepparent. This is not the case in Ohio. Whether grandparents retain their visitation rights after adoption depends upon the specific circumstances of the case. At this time, grandparents retain their rights if their child who is the parent is deceased, even if the surviving spouse remarries. In the case of parents who divorce or parents who were never married, adoption, even by a stepparent, makes the grandparents “legal strangers” and terminates their visitation rights. Learn more about how adoption affects visitation from the Ohio State Bar Association.
When Children Are Taken Into Custody
In the case of abused or neglected children who have been removed from their homes, the state of Ohio does not expressly provide for visitation with grandparents. Currently, however, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has policies in place that may allow grandparent visitation. Agencies providing such services are directed to arrange communication and visitation between the children in their custody and members of their extended families. This is provided by agency rule, however, and does not have the force of law. Also, if the children receive permanent placements, visitation is likely to be cut off.
When their grandchildren are removed from parental care, grandparents may want to step into the parental role. Many grandparents in this situation try for legal custody or become foster parents for their grandchildren. A 2008 law was designed to make this process easier, but it not been fully implemented in many states, including Ohio.
Relevant Court Cases
The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville impacted grandparents’ rights in all states. Simply put, in this 2000 decision the court found that parents’ decisions about their children are presumed to be in the best interests of the children. This presumption applies even when parents decide to cut off contact with grandparents. Thus, in court cases, the burden of proof lies with the grandparents, who must prove that contact with them is indeed in the best interests of the children, to the degree that justifies overruling the parents’ decision. Navigating these legal complexities may require an attorney.
Following the Supreme Court case, all states were obliged to evaluate their statutes about grandparent visitation. In Ohio, this evaluation occurred in the case of Harrold v. Collier. In this case, the maternal grandparents were denied contact with their granddaughter following the death of the child’s mother. The Ohio Supreme Court decided that it was in the child’s best interest to see her grandparents because they raised her for the first five years of her life. The justices noted that the Ohio laws do give special weight to the wishes of parents and thus are constitutional in the light of Troxel v. Granville.
The Ohio law itself is difficult to read and understand because the provisions for grandparent visitation are included in the lengthy statutes about parenting time. This informational brief is easier to understand. To read the actual laws, see Ohio Revised Code, Section 3109.051 concerning visitation rights; Section 3109.11 concerning children of deceased parents; and Section 3109.12 concerning unmarried parents.