There is a common misconception that Grandparents have rights to visitation or for custody when the biological parents cannot utilize their rights. However, many people do not know what these rights are or what they allow them to do.
A grandparent may be nominated as a guardian. This is a legal role that places the grandparent as the responsible adult for a child who has been declared a ward of the adult. The grandparent’s principal responsibility is the day-to-day supervision and welfare of the child, including overseeing the child’s money and property. However, other responsible adults can be nominated as a guardian when it is needed, not just grandparents.
A grandparent who is awarded a right to visitation is given a regular or scheduled, but limited, parenting-time right under a legislative statue, wherein possession of the child is temporary, and any far-reaching determinations regarding the child are on an emergency basis only. Neither guardianship nor court-ordered visitation is a custodial designation.
An award of custody is a judicial determination that affords the adult nearly all decision making, parenting functions, and caretaking responsibilities for a child, to the exclusion of other adults. The court makes such determinations based on the best interests of a particular child, with a preference given to the long-term residence of the child and legal precedents well established in other custody suits.
With all of this said, a Constitutional principle still holds, natural parents have an almost exclusive liberty interest in the custody and rearing of their children, free of infringement or interference, which is often referred to as “parental autonomy” and is derived from the substantive due-process parts of the United States Constitution. Therefore, the wishes of the parents and Orders of the Court will still trump any wishes or grandparents, as they don’t have rights unless granted to them by the Court.