Do Grandparents Have Rights in New Jersey?

It is well known that grandparents play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives by providing unconditional love and support and teaching important life lessons. Grandparents’ influence can have a significant impact on their grandchildren’s lives. Sometimes the parents and grandparents dispute issues, particularly those regarding child rearing. In those situations in which the grandparents enjoy a good relationship with their children, these disputes are often resolved. In the State of New Jersey, parents have no legal obligation to defer to the grandparents, and the law provides them with the ability to make final decisions regarding their children.  While parents have a constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit and make decisions regarding their caretaking, the best interests of the children are always paramount.

Some parents express significant concerns regarding grandparents. They believe that a grandparent may pose a risk of harm to their children, and they do not want them to maintain a relationship or communicate with their children. The grandparents may be permitted to have visitation with their grandchildren despite the objection of the parents if a court orders visitation. 

If a marriage or relationship ends and custody and parenting time are disputed issues between the parents, this may result in children not being able to spend time with their grandparents. Usually this occurs in the context of a divorce or court proceeding with unmarried parents, or when one parent passes away. These issues also arise post-divorce, when a custodial parent denies grandparent visitation with the former spouse’s parents. 

In order for a grandparent to be granted visitation with their grandchildren, a grandparent must make an application to the Superior Court in the county where the grandchildren reside. Grandparents’ rights in New Jersey are governed by NJSA 9:2-7.1. In order to obtain an Order granting visitation, initially a grandparent must demonstrate that serious physical or psychological harm will result to the child if visitation is denied. Pursuant to New Jersey law, this proof of harm must be more than showing that it is in the best interests of the child. Evidence that a grandparent in the past has been a full-time caretaker for the child is proof of a strong bond and is a factor in the analysis.

The Court considers many different factors in making a determination whether to enter an Order for grandparent visitation, including:

  • The relationship between the grandparent and grandchild
  • The relationship between the parents of the grandchild and the grandparent making the application to the Court
  • The amount of time that has passed since the child last had contact with the grandparent.
  • The effect that grandparent visitation will have on the relationship between the child and the child’s parents
  • If the parents are divorced or separated, the time-sharing arrangement that exists between the parents of the child
  • The good faith of the grandparent in filing the application
  • Any history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect by the grandparent
  • Any other factors which may be relevant to the best interests of the child

All of these factors must be weighed carefully by the Court in reaching a determination as to whether an Order should be granted for grandparent visitation. The family attorneys at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf understand the complex emotional issues that arise in the context of grandparents’ rights. Our compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys are experienced in these matters.  We represent grandparents who want to have visitation with their grandchildren, and we also represent parents who want to restrict the access that grandparents have with their children. Contact our family law team to schedule a consultation regarding your matter.