Domestic relations law in Virginia includes grandparents and step-grandparents as persons with “legitimate interest” in the welfare of a child. This means that, as a grandparent, you have the right to request custody or visitation of your grandchild. Although the courts heavily favor the biological parents, the child’s best interests ultimately influence the decision to award custody or visitation.
If you believe that you have a substantial claim for the custody of your grandchild, you will first have to challenge the parent’s ability to care for the child. The court could grant custody to you based on the following:
- If the child’s parents have willingly given up custody
- If you can prove the parents are unfit by way of abuse, mental or physical ability, addiction or special needs of the child
- If a parent has previously lost custody of the child
- If you can prove that the parents have effectively abandoned the child
Petitioning your grandchild’s parents for visitation rights can be much more challenging. If the parents feel that they have a reason to keep you away from your grandchild, a judge will probably grant their request. For the court to rule in your favor, you will have to demonstrate that your grandchild would undergo genuine harm if your interaction is blocked. If the parents are already refusing to allow you to spend time with their child, it may be nearly impossible to prove.
There are two specific circumstances in which you could lose your status as a person with a legitimate interest. If anyone other than a stepparent adopts your grandchild, or if the court revokes your son or daughter’s rights as a parent, you will also lose any right to challenge for custody or visitation.