When do Arkansas grandparents have rights to grandchild visitation?

Arkansas law allows grandparents to get visitation through the courts in narrow circumstances.

Many children are fortunate enough to develop deep, loving relationships with their grandparents. The nature of such a relationship varies, but it can be significant for both kids and grandparents. When the parents divorce or separate, sometimes their children's ties with maternal or paternal grandparents can become difficult to maintain.

Constitutional complications

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that parents have a constitutional right to care for and control their minor children. For grandparents, this can become an issue when their grandchildren's parents exert this right by not allowing the kids to see their grandparents. For example, when a couple divorces, if one parent has primary physical custody of the children, that parent may not want the kids to see the ex-spouse's parents.

Grandparent visitation statutes

Most family law matters are controlled by state law and this grandparent visitation issue has become a hot potato for state legislatures that must balance parental constitutional rights to care for and control children with the obvious benefits to children in some situations of maintaining grandparent-grandchild relationships.

The Arkansas approach

Not surprisingly, the Arkansas grandparent visitation statute has specific, strict requirements about what a grandparent must prove in court to establish a grandparental right to visitation. Ultimately, the law carves out a narrow, rigorous standard that must be met by a grandparent seeking visitation.

The specifics

The Arkansas statute gives a grandparent (or great-grandparent) the right to file a petition for visitation in circuit court for reasonable visitation in these circumstances:

  • If the parents of the grandchild were married, they must have divorced or legally separated, or one of them must have died.
  • If the child was born outside of marriage, the maternal grandparents may petition, and the paternal grandparents may petition if the father's paternity was adjudicated in court.

In the spirit of the parental right to care for children, the law presumes that if the custodial parent denies or limits grandparent visitation, it is in the child's best interest. This presumption can be rebutted if the grandparent proves two things:

  • The grandparent has a "significant and viable" relationship with the grandchild.
  • Visitation between the two would be in the child's best interest.

To prove a significant and viable grandparent-grandchild relationship, the petitioning grandparent can show any one of the following:

  • The grandchild lived with the grandparent for at least six straight months.
  • The grandparent regularly cared for the grandchild for at least six straight months.
  • The grandparent had "frequent or regular contact" with the grandchild for at least 12 straight months.
  • Losing the grandparent-grandchild relationship would likely "harm" the child.

To show that the visitation being sought would be in the child's best interest, the grandparent must prove three things:

  • That he or she is able to love and guide the grandchild
  • That losing the relationship would likely harm the child
  • That the grandparent would cooperate with the custodial parent concerning visitation

Not surprisingly, a number of Arkansas court cases have dealt with the legal interpretation of some of these terms. For example, how extreme would the harm to the grandchild have to be for losing the grandparent relationship?

Seek legal counsel

Because the stakes are so high, any Arkansas grandparent seeking visitation should obtain the representation of an experienced Arkansas family lawyer. On the other hand, any parent who does not feel that grandparent visitation is in the child's best interest and is opposing a petition for visitation should also get professional advice from a knowledgeable visitation attorney.

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