Grandparents’ Rights in Colorado

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedMay 19, 2021
4 minute read

Spending time with your grandchildren is one of life’s greatest joys. Unfortunately, certain situations can make cultivating a relationship with your grandchildren difficult. Divorce, incarceration, and the death of your adult child can restrict your relationship with your grandchildren. If you are facing these challenging circumstances, learn more about grandparents’ rights in Colorado.

grandparents rights in colorado

Whatever your family’s particular circumstances, it is always best to try and maintain a good relationship with your grandchild’s parent(s) and respect their child-rearing choices. However, there may come a time when you believe you need formal visitation orders or should take over raising your grandchildren.

It is important to underscore that it is difficult in Colorado for an outside adult to get custody of a child when their parent is adequately caring for them. However, there is a legal precedent for establishing grandparent visitation that is agreed upon and formalized by the court. Let’s look at how a case from 2000 could affect your grandparent’s rights in Colorado.

Grandparents Rights Goes to the U.S. Supreme Court

Grandparent visitation rights were thrown into a state of confusion by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2000 case Troxel v. Granville. This case originated in Washington state where a pair of grandparents, the Troxels, petitioned for the right to visit their deceased son’s daughters. While the children’s mother, Ms. Granville, agreed to the girls visiting their grandparents, she opposed the amount of visitation her former in-laws sought.

A focal point of this case was Washington Revised Code § 26.1O.160(3). It allowed state superior courts to grant visitation rights to anyone at any time so long as the visitation was in the children’s best interests.

In Superior Court, the grandparents were awarded more visitation than the mother agreed with, so she appealed. The Washington Appeals Court, however, reversed the lower court’s decision and dismissed the grandparents’ case.

From there, the case moved to the Washington Supreme Court where it found that the state law unconstitutionally infringed on the mother’s fundamental right to raise her children. The state justices reasoned that the U.S. Constitution only permits a state to interfere with that right to prevent harm or potential harm to a child – and the court noted that the state’s law was too broad.

U.S. Supreme Court Gives Deference to Parents

The grandparents continued to fight for visitation, and their case went to the United States Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court ruled that states that allowed grandparent visitation rights against the wishes of a child’s parent violated the parent’s constitutional right to raise their child.

“In an ideal world, parents might always seek to cultivate the bonds between grandparents and their grandchildren. Needless to say, however, our world is far from perfect, and in it the decision whether such an intergenerational relationship would be beneficial in any specific case is for the parent to make in the first instance. And, if a fit parent’s decision of the kind at issue here becomes subject to judicial review, the court must accord at least some special weight to the parent’s own determination.”
– Justice O’Connor, Troxel v. Granville

In other words, a court cannot overlook a parent’s decision about whether their child should have a relationship with their grandparent.

What This Means for Grandparents’ Rights in Colorado

It’s understandable if you feel a little defeated after reading that the U.S. Supreme Court yields to parents when grandparents request visitation with their grandchildren. However, this does not mean all hope is lost in your pursuit to see your grandkids.

What it does mean, though, is that it is tougher now to establish grandparent rights regarding visitation and custody in Colorado.

Colorado Law & Grandparent Rights

In 2006, the Colorado Supreme Court said to accommodate the state’s “best interests of the child” intent and the “special weight” and “special factors” requirements from the U.S. Supreme Court, a Colorado court could only order grandparent visitation if the following requirements are met:
  1. a presumption in favor of the parental visitation determination
  2. grandparents can rebut this presumption through clear and convincing evidence that the parental visitation determination is not in the child’s best interests
  3. the ultimate burden is placed on the grandparents to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation schedule they seek is in the best interests of the child
Clear and convincing evidence is a high burden.

While clear and convincing evidence is not as hard to meet as the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required in criminal cases, it is greater than the preponderance of the evidence standard typically required in civil cases.

So what is clear and convincing evidence? In a nutshell, you, as the grandparent, must be able to establish that the truth of your claim is highly probable and without serious doubt. 

When Can Grandparents Ask for Visitation Rights in Colorado?

According to state law, grandparents and great-grandparents have a right to petition the court for reasonable visitation with their grandchildren in these circumstances:
  • Divorce & Separation
    That the marriage of the child’s parents has been declared invalid or has been dissolved by a court or that a court has entered a decree of legal separation with regard to such marriage C.R.S.A. § 19-1-117(1)(a)
  • Grandchild to go to Foster Home
    That legal custody of or parental responsibilities with respect to the child have been given or allocated to a party other than the child’s parent or that the child has been placed outside of and does not reside in the home of the child’s parent, excluding any child who has been placed for adoption or whose adoption has been legally finalized C.R.S.A. § 19-1-117(1)(b)
  • Death of a Parent
    That the child’s parent, who is the child of the grandparent or grandchild of the great-grandparent, has died. C.R.S.A. § 19-1-117(1)(c)

When Can Grandparents Petition for Custody?

For grandparents who think it is in their grandchild’s best interests to be raised by them, there are three primary avenues through which custody may be obtained:
  • Child Removed from the Home
    If Colorado authorities remove a child from a parent’s home, under C.R.S. 19-1-115, Colorado grandparents have a preference for the child’s placement over other potential foster parents – but not preference over the other parent. Any person, including a grandparent, with actual physical care of the child, can petition a Colorado family law court for allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado C.R.S. 14-10-123.
  • Grandparent Raising Child
    Grandparents often end up raising their grandchildren when the child’s parent is absent in their life. In these circumstances, a grandparent may seek to obtain custody of them.
  • Ongoing Custody Cases
    Any person, including a grandparent, who has had custody of the child for at least six months can petition a Colorado family law court for an allocation of parental responsibilities within six months of the termination of the physical care C.R.S. 14-10-123.

Colorado grandparent rights are not automatic – even in these situations.

Talk to a Grandparent Rights Attorney

If your child is going through a divorce, is unable to care for their kids, or is deceased, you are likely deeply concerned about the welfare of your grandchildren. Robinson & Henry, P.C. family law attorneys can help you understand and exercise your grandparent rights regarding visitation or custody. Call 303-688-0944 to set up a case assessment.

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