Parents are not the only ones who forge deep and meaningful connections with their children. Extended family members—particularly grandparents—often play key roles in a child’s life, providing essential moral and physical support during early, formidable years.
Yet, despite this loving care, when parents choose to divorce, a grandparent’s right to visitation and custody looks a lot different than those of an actual parent.
Here’s everything you need to know about grandparents’ rights in Texas, and how the Neal Ashmore team can help you get contact with your grandchild, after divorce.
Parents vs. Grandparents: Who Has What Rights?
Precious little can compare to the joy of becoming a parent. One thing that just might, however, is becoming a grandparent.
Fortunately, due to an increasingly diversified workforce, as well as the evolving family unit, more grandparents than ever before have the opportunity to help raise their grandchildren. Unfortunately, however, this increased role doesn’t automatically grant grandparents the same authority as the child’s actual parent. Here’s why.
Parental rights encompass the various powers and responsibilities an adult has to care for, and make decisions on behalf of, their child. This authority comes automatically with the job title, and—whether biological or adopted—gives parents the ultimate deference to shape their child’s life, and have the final say in all major decisions.
Texas courts don’t take these parental powers lightly, and no other relationship is held in higher regard than that between parent and child. Because of this, a judge is highly unlikely to strip these rights from any parent, unless absolutely necessary to serve a child’s best interest.
Grandparents, on the other hand, lack this inherent authority. They may have brought the child’s parent into the world, but they did not, in fact, have anything to do with the decision to bring the grandchild into existence.
Because of this, not only do they lack authority to make decisions for the child, but they’re also absolved from the legal responsibility of caring for the child. Meaning, that no matter how many child rearing tasks a grandparent might carry out, there is no invisible tally working them up to full parental authority over the child.
The heartbreaking reality is, that some grandparents do much more than just carpooling, park dates, and tickle fights. In some situations, the gaping hole left by an absentee parent means that a grandparent has had no choice but to fully don the mantle of parental responsibility… And these grandparents do have rights.
Grandparents’ Rights in Texas
Today, every state in the Union has adopted some form of grandparents’ rights. These laws vary slightly from one another, with some offering more deference than others, depending on which state you live in.
In Texas, the court values the deep, meaningful contributions that grandparents make to their grandchild’s life. They recognize that it’s often in a child’s best interest to allow these relationships to continue, and because of this, Texas grandparents are able to file for either visitation and/or custody, in certain situations.
Your grandchild might be going through a lot—maybe their parents recently divorced, or perhaps one of them has died. You want more time so that you can give the love and comfort you know they need. However, the mere existence of a tragic, emotional family event doesn’t necessarily qualify you for visitation.
Under the Texas Family Code, a grandparent can petition for visitation (or, to modify an existing order) only if:
- At least one parent still has their parental rights;
- The grandparent can show that denying visitation would harm the child’s physical or emotional well-being; AND,
- The grandparent seeking visitation is the parent of the child’s parent, AND that parent:
- Has been in jail for at least three months; OR,
- Has been declared mentally incompetent; OR,
- Has died; OR,
- Does not have actual or court visitation with the child.
In short, you will need to show that your connection with your grandchild is vital to their health, and that furthermore, the child’s parent is unable (or unwilling) to give the child that same care.
A court won’t overrule a parent’s wishes, just because they’ve chosen to cut off contact with you. If it’s a matter of hurt feelings, the better option is usually to simply work on bettering your relationship, so that the parent wants to give you more time with your grandchild.
Grandparent Power of Attorney
In some situations, visitation might not be enough. Military assignments, jobs with frequent travel, and other long, parental absences can make it difficult for a grandparent to meet their grandchild’s daily needs, without further authority.
The easiest solution for these families is to have the child’s parent sign a Power of Attorney, granting you limited authority to make decisions on behalf of your grandchild. These can be used to give a grandparent the ability to make medical decisions, oversee their education needs, and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of your unique situation.
Power of attorney is also a good option for parents who might recognize they aren’t capable of parenting at the moment (say, because of substance abuse), but who want to do better, and need time to get there.
The downside to Power of Attorney, however, is that it is temporary, and can be revoked at any time.
For some parents, it’s not a military assignment or job that’s keeping a parent from their responsibilities, but an actual inability (or unwillingness) to even try. Whether for substance abuse, family violence, or neglect, grandparents looking for a more permanent solution may need to petition the court for custody—or, “managing conservatorship” as it’s often called in Texas.
According to the Texas Family Code, a grandparent has the right to petition the court for managing conservatorship over their grandchild, if:
- Either both parents, the sole surviving parent, or the child’s current guardian gives consent.
- The child is being emotionally or physically harmed in their current environment (such as with abuse, neglect, or family violence).
This second option is known as “significant impairment,” and essentially means that a parent is incapable of providing proper care for their child. And—because parental rights are so sacrosanct to the court—it’s also a fairly high standard to meet.
In the past, Texas courts have ruled that merely “being better at parenting” will not qualify a grandparent for custody. Instead, grandparents have the burden of proof to show that the situation is actually causing harm to the child’s mental or physical well-being.
Grandparents’ Rights Attorneys in Texas
Just because you aren’t your grandchild’s official parent, doesn’t mean you don’t love and care for them as fiercely as any parent should. The court recognizes this dedication, and in some situations, a grandparent’s actions may translate into certain visitation and custody rights.
If you have more questions about grandparents’ rights in Texas, we want to hear from you. Call Neal Ashmore today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help ensure your grandchild’s best interests are being met.