California grandparents' rights are considered to be fairly permissive. Grandparents cannot file for visitation rights while the child's parents are married, unless specific conditions are met. These conditions include the following: the parents are living separately, a parent's whereabouts are unknown for a month or more, the child has been adopted by a stepparent or the child does not live with either parent. In addition, a grandparent may petition for rights if joined in that petition by one of the parents. Other conditions under which a suit may be considered include cases in which one parent is deceased and cases in which the parents are unmarried, although winning a suit when the parents are unmarried is far from guaranteed.
Visitation rights are based on a pre-existing relationship that has "engendered a bond." The court is also directed to balance the interest of the child with the parents' rights and authority to make decisions about the child.
After the pro-parent Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville in 2000, the constitutionality of California's statutes was in doubt. The 2003 case of Fenn v. Sherriff, however, affirmed that the state could decide in favor of grandparents under certain conditions.
In 2007 the California laws were amended so that grandparents do not lose their rights if a stepparent adopts their grandchild. That provision was challenged in the case of Finberg v. Manset. The first judge to hear the case found for the parents, saying that the law unfairly discriminates between natural parents and adoptive parents. On appeal, however, the court found that the law is constitutional, noting that children who have been through family upheavals may need the stability of continuing relationships with grandparents.
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