Grandparent Rights in Oklahoma: Brief Overview

I get calls all the time about grandparent rights.  Someone is estranged from his/her children and wants to see their grandchildren or someone’s child doesn’t have or can’t exercise visitation rights, so the grandparents want rights of their own.  Oklahoma does have grandparent rights, but only in limited circumstances.

First, the Court must make a finding that visitation with the grandparents is in the best interests of the children.  Next, the grandparent must prove parental unfitness OR show that the children would suffer harm or potential harm without the granting of visitation rights to the grandparent of the children.  It’s a little more complicated than that because the “OR” option requires proof by clear and convincing evidence that the children would be harmed without visits from the grandparents.  Proving this, according to the statute, would rebut the presumption of parental fitness.  FYI, the law presumes that parents are reasonably capable of taking care of their kids unless evidence proves otherwise, sort of an “innocent until proven guilty” type of thing.

Additionally, there must be a disruption of the “nuclear family” through certain events.  These events are specifically listed in the statute and include a divorce, a parent going to jail for a felony conviction, termination of a parent’s rights etc.  The statute has a common theme that the grandparents’ must have a relationship with the children prior to the disrupting event.  In other words, you can’t suddenly be interested in your grandkids once your child dies and expect to get grandparent visitation.  The children wouldn’t be harmed by denial of visitation with you because they don’t know you.

In any event, the statute provides that grandparent visitation cannot be allowed when both parents in an “intact” family object to grandparent visits.  I assume that this limitation is there because of the constitutional protection for the right to parent children.  It would probably be unconstitutional for a judge to order visitation over the parents’ objection.  As a society, we typically don’t want the court to substitute its own opinion for that of the parents if there’s no objectively imminent harm.

The Oklahoma grandparent visitation statute is long and complicated.  There is much more than I could include in a blog post (or at least one people would have patience to read).  I think the underlying idea is that it’s cruel to separate children from grandparents merely because one parent doesn’t want them to visit.  From what I’ve seen, parents denying grandparent visits is often a form of retribution for perceived wrongs arising out of the parental relationship e.g. I will punish you for cheating on me by not letting the kids see your mom.  The pettiness often involved in parental custody battles exists for grandparent visitation disputes too.

Most professionals agree that grandparent bonds with grandchildren is a good thing.  A lot of the time, it helps kids learn emotional/social intelligence and provides an extra layer of security.  It provides a greater outreach of love and support through the difficult process of growing up.  I know that I personally have benefited immensely from having a strong relationship with my grandparents.  Their love and teaching helped me through some of my toughest life challenges.

However, while grandparents have a tremendous ability to benefit children’s lives, they can also get in the way sometimes.  Here a few tips and/or food for thought for grandparents of kids with divorced parents:

  1.  Do not speak negatively about your child’s former spouse.  Kids are extremely impressionable.  If they’re within earshot, they will record, repeat and internalize the sentiment.
  2. Follows both parents’ rules; even if you think the rules are ridiculous.  Don’t create rule-instability by having rules which conflict with the parents’ rules.  More instability is the last things kids with divorced parents need.
  3. Give notice of intended visits i.e. don’t do pop-ins.  I think this is a good rule of thumb for all grandparents.  Failing to abide by this simple courtesy is almost sure to provoke a court-involved conflict.
  4. Keep both parents informed of important developments while the kids are with you.  You may hate your son/daughter’s ex, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be in the loop.  You should be sure to have current contact info for both parents to ensure this occurs.

If you want more information or advice on how to obtain court-ordered grandparent visits, feel free to contact me.