If there is a case already in court – for example, the parents are divorcing or custody is being decided:
Call the District Court in the county where the child lives.
Get the name and number of the case from the clerk at the court.
Write a letter to the judge explaining why you should have the right to visit your grandchild. Give it to the clerk. Send a copy of this letter to each parent's attorney. If there is no attorney, send a copy directly to each parent.
Once you have done this, here’s what happens next:
Parents get court papers
Parents of the child must get copies of your Petition papers. You will need to arrange for the sheriff to give them the papers, this is called "serving" them the papers, or you must send the papers to the parents by certified mail. The parents may also file their own papers, called an “Answer,” telling the judge their side of the story. They have to give you a copy.
The judge decides next steps: court conference
A judge will look over your papers and decide what comes next. The judge may require you and the parents to meet with a person who is trained to help people resolve disputes – called a “mediator” - to talk about the situation and try and work things out. This is called “mediation.” You must do this if the judge orders it. And you have to mediate “in good faith” which means that you and the parents have to participate and make an effort.
The judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem
The judge may appoint a “Guardian ad Litem” (GAL) to the case. The GAL’s job is to investigate the situation and make a recommendation to the judge about what kind of visitation is in the child's best interest. The judge will consider the GAL’s recommendations when deciding the case.
During the GAL’s investigation, they will talk to the child, the parents, and you. The GAL will also talk to other people who are involved in the child’s life. For example, a GAL might talk to: teachers, counselors, or other family members. The GAL will most likely come visit your home and the home(s) of the parents.
The GAL does not work for you or for the parents. The GAL’s only job is to investigate and advocate for the best interests of the child.
The judge decides: court hearing
If you can’t work things out with the parents, you will have a hearing in front of a judge. You and the parents need to go to the hearing. If you or the parents decide to call witnesses, they will be there too.
The judge must decide if giving you visitation would meet two legal standards:
Visits must be in the “best interests of the child,” and
Visits must not affect the parent/child relation or the parents' authority.
In making a decision, the judge looks at many things, including: the age of the child, what the child would like, the GAL’s recommendation, and your ability and the parents’ ability to give the child love and guidance.
Can the judge’s decision be changed?
Yes, if the situation changes substantially and someone goes back to court to ask for a change. You can also appeal the judge’s decision. You have 21 days after the decision to appeal.