The Limitations Regarding Court-Ordered Grandparent Visitation in Florida

One of the more recent issues in family law with which the courts in the various states have wrestled is the matter of grandparent visitation. In Florida, the law as announced by the Florida Supreme Court is relatively clear:  the state Constitution’s right to privacy includes a parent’s right to raise his or her child as the parent sees fit, and that means that the courts generally cannot order that grandparents receive visitation over a parent’s objection. As with almost any aspect of the area, there are a few exceptions, though, one of which was on display in a case that went before the state’s Supreme Court recently. Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent involved in a visitation dispute, an experienced Florida child custody attorney can go over with you the limits of grandparents’ rights and how Florida law would apply to your case.

In general, a parent has a very strong right to privacy when it comes to child-rearing under the Florida Constitution. Specifically, Article I, Section 23 of the Constitution says that every “natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.” The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted this section to mean that forced grandparent visitation is unconstitutional and against public policy. A judge telling a parent that he or she must allow his or her child to have visitation with a grandparent is exactly the sort of government intrusion into private life that Section 23 bars, according to the court.

There are a couple of ways a grandparent might be able to obtain a court order of visitation, but they are very narrow. One is if the family was involved in visitation litigation in another state that allows enforced grandparent visitation, and a court of that state entered a valid order that required the parent(s) to allow visitation with the grandparent(s). There are very few things that can trump the Florida Constitution, but one of them is the U.S. Constitution.

Early this year, the court handed down its opinion in a grandparent visitation case in which the family had been involved in a visitation action in Colorado. A Colorado court had entered an order in the fall of 2012 that gave the grandparents visitation with the children. The mother, who had moved to Florida, attacked the order here, arguing that it violated her right to privacy and was unenforceable as a violation of Florida public policy.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the grandparents. Whether or not the Colorado order was a violation of Florida public policy, it was a valid order from a court that properly had jurisdiction to enter it at the time it did so. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution says that, if a court of proper jurisdiction enters a valid order, the courts of other states are required to honor it and enforce it. Thus, regardless of the answer to the question regarding Florida public policy and the state’s right to privacy, the Florida courts were bound by federal constitutional law to enforce the order and give the grandparents visitation.

As for the other circumstance allowing grandparent visitation, that came about through a law passed by the Florida legislature and signed by Governor Scott in 2015. That law allows grandparents to seek visitation if both parents are dead, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state. Alternatively, the grandparents can go to court if one parent is a convicted felon, and the other is dead, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state.

Whether you’re involved in a grandparent visitation dispute or some other type of family law situation, you need knowledgeable attorneys who understand the law in depth and know how to put the law to work for you. The skilled South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping people with a wide range of family law issues for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Court Upholds Enforcement of Colorado Order Granting Visitation to Grandparents, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2015

Appeals Court Clarifies Standard for Parental Abandonment Finding, Revives Grandparents’ Adoption Petition, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 3, 2014