Q: My son has two children with his soon-to-be ex-wife. A friend said I might be able to get court-ordered visitation with my grandchildren, but another friend said that I couldn't. Can I ask the court for visitation?
A: Yes. In Ohio, grandparents can seek court-ordered visitation if the child's parents are unmarried, if the child's parents file for a divorce or dissolution or legal separation, or if one of the child's parents has died. Once the grandparent files a motion with the court seeking companionship or visitation rights, the court must determine that the grandparent has an interest in the welfare of the child. Ohio courts must consider a parent's wishes when deciding whether to award visitation, and the court must also consider whether grandparent visitation would be in the child's best interest.
Q: I have court-ordered visitation with my five-year-old granddaughter. Can this visitation be taken from me?
A: Under certain circumstances, your grandparent visitation can be terminated. Visitation rights can always be modified or terminated by the court. You may lose court-ordered visitation if one of the parents establishes that there has been a change in circumstances and that the best interests of the child make it necessary to terminate those previously granted visitation orders. Or (assuming your son’s ex-wife has custody of your granddaughter), if your granddaughter’s mother remarries, her new husband may wish to legally adopt your granddaughter.If this step-parent adoption is granted, your right to visitation is terminated and the child becomes a “legal stranger” to you because under current law, there is no difference between stranger adoptions and step-parent adoptions when it comes to the rights of relatives to maintain familial ties.
Q: My daughter’s two minor children were adopted by their step-mother because my daughter had not paid child support for more than a year. I had visitation with them before the adoption, and my ex-son-in-law promised nothing would change, but I haven’t seen them since. Is there anything I can do to formally re-establish my visitation with my grandchildren?
A: Not at this time. Some grandparents have tried to re-establish visitation after adoption, but Ohio courts have found that they do not have the authority to grant post-adoption visitation.
Q: How long does a stepparent adoption take?
A: A parent and step-parent must first file a petition for adoption. The court generally will not issue an adoption decree until 30 days after the adoption is finalized, assuming the child has lived in the home for at least six months. Also, the adoption becomes finalized, in many Ohio courts, only after the parent and step-parent have been married for at least one year.
Q: My grandchild's step-father has filed to adopt my grandchild. He told me there was nothing I could do to stop him. Is this true?
A: He is probably right. In Ohio, grandparents who only have visitation rights do not have standing to protest their grandchild's adoption. However, you should consult an attorney to discuss possible options.
Q: My attorney says there is nothing I can do to protect my grandparent visitation rights from a possible step-parent adoption. After it took so long to establish, how can my visitation rights be taken away from me and my grandchild?
A: Currently in Ohio, what your attorney says is correct. Courts have continued to ask the legislature to address the issue of preserving grandparents' rights to visitation in step-parent adoptions. Some states have created laws that allow post-adoption visitation to continue, but Ohio courts cannot force the Ohio legislature to act. You can write to your legislator, asking that a statute be passed that helps protect grandparent visitation.
This "Law You Can Use" legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Jerry M. Johnson and Christine Bollinger, attorneys with the Lima law firm of Hunt & Johnson, LLC. It was updated by Cleveland attorney Laurel G. Stein of Bittinger Law.