The answer to the above question depends on what rights the grandparents are seeking and the status of the parents of the minor children.? Depending on the circumstances, in Oklahoma grandparents may be granted visitation with their grandchildren, they may serve as foster parents for their grandchildren, they may seek guardianship of their grandchildren and they may seek to become the adoptive parents of their grandchildren.
The United States Supreme Court in?Troxel v. Granville, 527 U.S. 1069, (1999), held that so long as a parent is fit the state normally should not interfere with or further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.? Oklahoma law specifically states that under no circumstances shall any judge grant the right of visitation to any grandparent if the child is a member of an intact nuclear family and both parents of the child object to the granting of visitation.
The?circumstances in which a grandparent can be granted visitation rights are listed in the Oklahoma Grandparental Visitation statute,?43 Okl.St.Ann. ? 109.4.? The statute lists several requirements, all of which are mandatory, before a grandparent may be awarded visitation rights. Grandparents may be granted visitation if the court deems it in the best interest of the child, provided that the grandparent can show either parental unfitness, or that the child would suffer harm in the absence of visitation. Visitation will not be awarded under any circumstances if the nuclear family is intact and both parents object to visitation. Family situations in which visitation can be sought include death, divorce, separation, annulment, unmarried parents, incarceration and desertion. In most of these situations, a preexisting relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild is necessary for visitation. Some of the subsections call for a “strong, continuous?grand-parental?relationship.”
The?Grand-parental?Visitation statute also spells out the?factors for consideration in deciding the best interests of the child. These include the following:
- The importance to the child of continuing a preexisting relationship with the grandparent
- The age and reasonable preference of the child
- the willingness of the grandparent to encourage a close parent-child relationship
- the length, quality and intimacy of the preexisting grandparental relationship
- The emotional ties between the parent and child
- The motivation and efforts of the grandparent to continue the grandparental relationship
- The parental motivation for denying visitation
- The mental and physical health of the grandparent
- The mental and physical health of the child
- The mental and physical health of the parent
- The permanence and stability of the family unit and environment
- The moral fitness of the parties
- The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the homes of the parties
- the quantity of visitation time requested and any adverse impact it would have on the child’s customary activities
- If both parents are dead, the benefit in maintaining the preexisting relationship.
?Oklahoma also provides guidelines for proving parental unfitness in a suit for grandparent visitation; however, such a finding cannot be used to terminate parental rights. These factors include the following:
- Chemical or alcohol dependency, untreated or unsuccessfully treated
- A history of violent behavior or domestic abuse
- An emotional or mental illness that impairs judgment or impairs the capacity to recognize reality or to control behavior
- A failure to provide the child with proper care, guidance and support
- Any other condition making the parent unable or unwilling to give a child reasonable parental care.
Great-grandparents have the same right to visitation as grandparents