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Proposed legislation could help Texas grandparents get visitation

The bond between grandparents and grandchildren can be a strong one. However, when parents divorce, grandparents sometimes find themselves cut out of their grandchildren's lives. Their former son- or daughter-in-law may have primary custody of the kids and not want them to be around their ex-spouse's parents. Sometimes their own child may not make the effort to let them see their grandkids (or may not want them to).

Under current Texas law, a grandparent can only successfully sue for visitation if at least one of the children's parents is deceased, in prison, not mentally competent or is estranged from the child. Even then, a grandparent who wants to see their grandchildren must provide expert testimony that being kept from their grandparents is harmful to the child's physical or mental well-being. That can be a difficult case to make.

However, a bill that's currently before the Texas House would lessen that burden of proof. House Bill 575 would remove the requirement that a parent be absent or unable to care for a child for grandparents to have visitation rights. It would also no longer require the expert testimony of a doctor or mental health professional. It would allow testimony by others, such as neighbors, regarding the impact on a child of not being able to see their grandparents.

Those who oppose the bill, such as the Texas Home School Coalition Association, say that it would allow grandparents to gain access to children over the parents' objections -- particularly grandparents who can afford to wage a court battle. However, a representative from the Texas Family Law Foundation says, "It's not a threat to the average family...We are interested in eliminating absurdities under state law."

It remains to be seen which side of this argument will prevail with Texas lawmakers. Of course, it's always best when families can work together to put aside their differences and allow grandchildren to continue to see all of their grandparents following divorce. Often, grandparents can help provide comfort and continuity for kids whose parents are divorcing. However, it's also important for grandparents not to disparage either of their grandchildren's parents. That can be a sure-fire way to lose access to the kids.

Whether you're a parent or a grandparent dealing with this issue, it's important to know what your rights are. An experienced family law attorney can provide information and guidance.

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