Grandparent Alienation: Understanding The Legal Aspects

Grandparent alienation is a term used to describe a situation where a grandparent is denied access to their grandchild or is prevented from having a meaningful relationship with them. 

This can happen for various reasons, including divorce, the death of a parent, or family conflict. 

It may also occur due to a strained relationship between the grandparents and their own child, where the child may feel resentful towards their parents for past mistakes.

Navigating the Legal System

All 50 states allow grandparents to petition the court for visitation with their grandchildren. However, the extent of grandparent visitation rights varies among states. The laws of grandparent visitation can be described as either “restrictive” or “permissive.”

Restrictive Grandparent Visitation

About 40% of states have “restrictive” grandparent visitation statutes.

In general, restrictive grandparent visitation limits the ability of grandparents to obtain a visitation order for specific situations, such as the death of one or both parents or the parent’s divorce or separation.

In restrictive visitation states, a grandparent has no rights to visitation unless there has been a death or the parents are going through a divorce. In addition, in restrictive states, a grandparent will only be granted visitation if the court determines it is in the child’s best interests and does not interfere with the parent-child relationship.

Permissive Grandparent Visitation

About 60% of states have “permissive” grandparent visitation statutes.

In general, permissive grandparent visitation statutes allow grandparents to seek visitation as long as it is in the child’s best interests. Evidence of a consistent and caring relationship between grandparent and grandchild and no interference with the parent-child relationship can support this assertion.

Below are links to each state’s grandparent visitation laws. You will need to read your state’s law to see if you live in a “restrictive” or “permissive” state.

AlabamaHawaiiMassachusettsNew MexicoSouth Dakota
AlaskaIdahoMichiganNew YorkTennessee
ArizonaIllinoisMinnesotaNorth CarolinaTexas
ArkansasIndianaMississippiNorth DakotaUtah
DelawareLouisianaNevadaPennsylvaniaWest Virginia
FloridaMaineNew HampshireRhode IslandWisconsin
GeorgiaMarylandNew JerseySouth CarolinaWyoming
Grandparent Visitation Laws – All 50 states

Legal Framework

In the United States, grandparents do not have an automatic right to visit or have custody of their grandchildren, and parents have the primary legal authority over their children’s care and upbringing. 

Generally, grandparents must demonstrate that visitation is in the child’s best interests and that they have an existing relationship with the child.

Courts consider a variety of factors when deciding whether to grant visitation rights. These factors may include the following: 

  • The child’s age.

  • Nature of the relationship between grandparent and child.

  • Mental and physical health of grandparents.

  • Wishes of the parents.

  • Desires of the children (if they are old enough to have an opinion). 

In cases where the parents are divorced, the court will also consider any existing custody or visitation orders.

Grandparents’ Rights for Adoption and Foster Care

In addition to state laws, federal laws can impact grandparent visitation rights. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires states to consider giving preference to relatives, including grandparents, when placing children in foster care or for adoption. 

The act also allows grandparents to intervene in cases where the state is seeking to terminate parental rights.

Are There Legitimate Reasons to Deny Grandparents’ Visitation? 

There are often legitimate reasons for parents to deny grandparents visitation with their grandchildren. The decision to allow or deny visitation rights to grandparents is usually made by the parents and, in some cases, the court. 

Below are some of the legitimate reasons for denying grandparents visitation:

1. Drug or Alcohol Use

If the grandparents have a history of drug or alcohol use or if there are concerns about their current use, this may be a legitimate reason to deny visitation. Substance abuse can create an unsafe environment for children and put them at risk of harm.

2. Neglect or Abuse

If there are concerns about the child’s safety with their grandparents, such as a history of neglect or abuse, it may be necessary to deny visitation. The safety and well-being of the child must always come first, and if there are any doubts about this, it is crucial to take action to protect the child.

3. Inconsistent Parenting Styles

If the grandparents have significantly different parenting styles than the parents, and this causes confusion or conflict for the child, visitation may be denied. Consistency in parenting is important for the child’s well-being, and if the grandparents cannot align their approach with that of the parents, it may be best to limit their involvement.

4. Undermining Parental Authority

If the grandparents actively undermine the parents’ authority or create conflict in the family, this may be a legitimate reason to deny visitation. Grandparents should respect the parents’ role in raising their child and avoid creating tension that could harm the child.

5. Lack of Relationship

If the grandparents have not had a meaningful relationship with the child in the past, it may not be in the child’s best interests to force a relationship now. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren should be built on mutual respect and affection, and it may not be possible to establish this if there has been no prior relationship.

6. Distance

If the grandparents live far away and visitation would require significant travel, this may be a legitimate reason to deny visitation. In cases where the grandparents cannot visit regularly, it may be difficult to establish a meaningful relationship with the child.

In all cases, the child’s best interests should be the primary consideration when deciding whether to allow or deny visitation with grandparents. If there are concerns about the grandparents’ behavior or ability to provide a safe and healthy environment for the child, limiting or denying visitation may be necessary. 

How To File a Grandparent Visitation Petition

The steps to file a grandparent visitation petition will vary depending on the laws of your state, but generally, the process involves the following steps:

  • Research the Laws: Before filing a petition for grandparent visitation, you should look at the laws in your state to see if your state is a “permissive” or “restrictive” grandparent visitation state. 

  • Consult with an Attorney: If you want to obtain grandparent visitation, I recommend you consult with an attorney familiar with the grandparent visitation laws in your state or country. An attorney can advise you on your legal rights and help you navigate the court process.

  • Draft the Petition: The petition should include information such as your relationship with the child, the nature of your previous contact with the child, and why you are seeking visitation. The petition should also specify the relief you are seeking, such as a specific visitation schedule.

  • File the Petition: Once the petition is complete, you must file it with the court in the appropriate jurisdiction. You will also need to pay any filing fees that may be required.

  • Serve the Petition: After the petition is filed, you must serve it on the child’s parents and any other parties involved in the case. This usually involves having the documents delivered to them by a process server or sheriff’s deputy. 

  • Attend Court Hearings: After the petition is filed, there will be one or more court hearings to determine whether grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests. You must attend these hearings and present your case to the court.

  • Follow Court Orders: If the court grants your petition for grandparent visitation, you must comply with any court orders regarding visitation. If the court denies your petition, you may have the option to appeal the decision.


Grandparent alienation is a difficult and complex issue. While the legal framework for grandparent visitation rights varies from state to state, all 50 states allow grandparents to petition the court for visitation with their grandchildren.

If you are facing this difficult situation, seeking the guidance of legal professionals can help you navigate the legal system and find a resolution that is in the best interests of the child.

What To Read Next


Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

Recent Posts