Grandparent visitation in California

This guide can help you:

  • Understand laws around grandparents and visitation
  • Start a case to ask for grandparent's visitation
  • Find resources to help you 

If you're raising your grandchild 

and you want custody of the child, find out about guardianships. In a guardianship, a grandparent can get custody (legal decision-making rights) of a child and not just visitation.

Grandparent visitation

Parents typically get to decide whether their child sees their grandparents

Generally, a child's parents have the right to decide whether or not their child will see their grandparents. If parents don't live together, either parent can let the child see their grandparents during their parenting time. 

If there's concern about a child's mental or physical safety when they are around a grandparent, a judge could order that a parent is not allowed to have their child around a grandparent. There could also be a domestic violence restraining order that protects a child from their grandparent.

In some cases, the grandparents can ask a judge to order visitation

Grandparents can file papers with the court to ask a judge to order visitation if either

  • The child's parents aren't married
  • The child's parents are married, but live apart (more than just temporarily)

Generally, if a child's parents are married and live together with their child, their grandparents can't file papers to ask for visitation. The parents get to decide if their child visits their grandparents.

If the parents are married, their grandparents can only file for visitation if 

  • The parents live apart (more than just temporarily)
  • The child does not live with either parent
  • A parent is in jail, prison, or involuntarily institutionalized
  • A parent’s whereabouts are unknown (and have been for at least a month)
  • One of the parents joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation
  • The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent

If not, the grandparents can't file to ask for visitation. Family Code section 3104.

A judge can order grandparent visitation in limited cases

If grandparents file papers asking for visitation, the judge can only order reasonable visitation if they find that

illustration of a child and adult

1. There's an existing bond between grandparents and child

The grandparent and grandchild have an existing bond. This bond means that it is in the best interest of the child to see their grandparents.

illustration of a judges gavel

2. The child's best interests outweighs parent's rights

The child's best interest to see the grandparent outweighs the parent's rights to make decisions about their child.

If you're a grandparent considering filing a case

Consider meeting with a private mediator or counselor first

In mediation, parents and grandparents meet with a neutral person. Look for a family mediator - someone with experience mediating with families. If mediation works out, it can avoid court and is more likely to help you build a better relationship.

If you decide to start a court case, it can often cause tension between you and the child's parents. And, the judge may not order the visits you want. If the parents are open to mediation, it can be best for everyone. 

Get legal help to get the right papers to start the case

This site has general information and instructions to help you. But, you will need to talk to someone who knows about how the process works in the court where you file the case. The free Self-Help Center in the county where your grandchild lives can answer questions and may have sample forms you can use. A lawyer can also help you.

Grandparent visitation

Find out how to start a case

If you decide that you want to file for grandparent visitation, find out what steps you need to take to start a court case. 

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