Grandparent Visitation in Oklahoma (Grandparental Rights)
One of the most frequent subjects of inquiries to The Crosthwait Law Firm is regarding grandparent visitation rights in Oklahoma. This area of family law is very emotional and, with high divorce rates and an increasing number of baby boomers becoming grandparents, there are more and more grandparents in Oklahoma who desire to play a greater role in the upbringing of their grandchildren.
While Oklahoma has passed legislation regarding grandparent visitation, it is important to understand the historical background to the current law, including a 1999 decision by the United States Supreme Court. In that landmark case, the United States Supreme Court overturned a statute from the state of Washington granting grandparent visitation rights. In doing so, the Court held that “so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.” Troxel v. Granville, 527 U.S. 1069, 120 S. Ct. 11 (1999).
Accordingly, in 2004, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that previous versions of Oklahoma law dealing specifically with grandparent visitation were unconstitutional, relying on the Troxel case mentioned above. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a parent has a “right to raise his or her child without undue governmental interference and that a fit parent is accorded a presumption that he or she acts in the child’s best interest.” In re A.N.O., 2004 OK 33.
After the ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma legislature passed the current version of the Oklahoma statute, which can be found here: 43 O.S. sec. 109.4 – Visitation Rights of Grandparent of Unmarried Minor. This statute lists three (3) mandatory requirements which must all be met before a grandparent may be awarded visitation rights in Oklahoma:
First, a court must decide that the grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child(ren). In order to assist the court in determining whether or not the grandparent visitation is in the child(ren)’s best interests, the statute sets forth fourteen (14) factors to for determining best interests.
Second, there must either be 1) a showing of parental unfitness, or 2) the grandparent has rebutted, by clear and convincing evidence, the presumption set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Troxel that the parent is acting in the best interests of the child by showing to the court that the child would suffer harm or potential harm without the grandparent visitation rights.
Third, “the intact nuclear family has been disrupted.” The statute currently provides nine (9)circumstances in which the nuclear family has been disrupted.
Once again, it is important to note that all three of the requirements must be met before a court will enter an order requiring grandparent visitation in Oklahoma. Attempting to file a grandparent visitation case is highly discouraged unless these very detailed and specific statutory requirements are met.
Let the experienced and compassionate Oklahoma family law attorneys at The Crosthwait Law Firm discuss with you regarding your specific situation as it relates to grandparent visitation rights in Oklahoma and the best way for you to handle this very emotionally charged situation. Our office is conveniently located in Midwest City, near Tinker Air Force Base.