Constitutionally, a child’s biological parents have an extremely strong presumption of custody in their favor when faced with third parties’ competing interests. This stems from the fact that courts, in reviewing the best interests of the child in determining an appropriate custodial arrangement, normally presume that the child is better suited to remain with his or her biological parents. In general, custody is most often granted to parties other than a child’s biological parents upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence that said parents are not sufficiently fit to care for the child, have abandoned the child, or do certain things, such as regularly drinking while intoxicated, that pose a threat of harm to the child’s safety and/or wellbeing.
In Mississippi, the State Supreme Court overturned a decision granting custody to a child’s grandparents based upon a determination that the child’s biological father was ill-prepared, versus being unfit, to have custody over the child. In essence, Mississippi courts, as evident from the aforementioned case, set substantial limitations on third parties when litigating these types of custodial issues, making it more difficult for grandparents and other third parties to gain custody rights over and above those of the child’s natural parents. To further illustrate Mississippi’s preference towards a biological parent’s custodial rights, a court within the State denied custody to a child’s grandparents, who asserted that the child was permanently abandoned by its mother. While the child was left for an extended period of time in the “custody” of the grandparents, the court determined that the mother never intended for the grandparents to permanently obtain legal custody over the child.
In addition to custodial rights, visitation by grandparents also poses certain challenges. Specifically, the State of Mississippi will only allow a court to order grandparent visitation under certain limited circumstances, such as when custody is awarded to a parent that dies, or, a court terminates a party’s parental rights. In the alternative, if the child’s grandparents maintained a significant relationship with the child, in essence, either fully or partially supported the child (whether financial or otherwise) for a period of 6 months or more, had frequent visitation with the child, including overnights, for at least one year, and the court determines that visitation is in the child’s best interests, grandparents may be awarded visitation rights.
If you are a grandparent seeking to obtain either custody over or visitation with your grandchild, it is important to speak with an experienced Mississippi family law attorney to determine what your legal options are, the nature and extent of your rights and responsibilities, and how to optimize your chances of success. Give us a call today to find out more about how we can help you. We look forward to providing you with excellent representation.
Contact Mississippi custody attorney Matthew S. Poole for a consultation by calling (601) 573-7429 today.