During our many years of experience as Tampa Bay family lawyers, we’ve witnessed an ongoing, uphill battle for grandparent visitation rights. This despite formidable lobbying power in the state with the highest proportion of senior citizens – 17.3 percent according to the 2010 census.
Since the first go-round in 1978, grandparent rights laws have met, and lost, one challenge after another. As detailed in a 2012 article in The Florida Bar Journal, the rights of a fit parent have consistently trumped those of a third party (the grandparents). The laws were struck down on three main fronts:
- Common law, in which a fit parent is presumed to act in the best interest of their child, and third parties have no inherent right to visitation.
- Florida’s constitutional guarantee of parental privacy, upheld by the State Supreme Court, which affirmed that parents may raise their children as they see fit unless the child is threatened with harm
- The U.S. Supreme Court, which cited “the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children”
Even the most recent legislation, in which divorced military servicemembers can designate to their parents their timesharing rights while they are absent for duty, may not survive the Constitutionality test. With one fit parent in control, it remains to be seen whether the absent parent’s “assignment” of rights to the grandparents will stand.
The only legislation that seems to have sticking power is a 2011 statute protecting grandparents’ right to interact with grandchildren “adjudicated as dependent” (under state guardianship because the parents have lost custody). This simply prevents interference by caseworkers – there are no overriding parental rights to contest.
Baccarella & Baccarella offers a free consultation to help you understand your visitation rights. Contact us to schedule your visit.