What Rights Do Grandparents Have in Utah?

What Rights Do Grandparents Have in Utah?

Utah law allows grandparents to seek visitation and even custody with their grandchildren under certain circumstances. This is a complicated area of the law because a series of recent decisions from Utah’s appellate courts have made it difficult for grandparents to prevail if a parents objects unless they can prove their grandkids will suffer “significant harm” unless the court intervenes. There are four major ways for grandparents to acquire visitation or custody rights: (1) guardianship, (2) juvenile court abuse/neglect/dependency proceedings, (3) a grandparent visitation lawsuit, or (4) a custody for persons other than a parent lawsuit.


The simplest way for grandparents to obtain custody of their grandchildren is a guardianship action in district court. This allows grandparents to acquire custody of their grandkids and make important decisions on their behalf as if they were the parents. However, to obtain guardianship under this method the grandparents must obtain written consent from the parents or prove the parents are unable to care for the children because they are dead, missing, incapacitated, or have had their rights terminated. But if either parent objects to the grandparents having guardianship then the case will likely be dismissed and the grandparents will have to pursue other legal routes to obtain custody or visitation rights.

Juvenile Court Abuse/Neglect/Dependency Action

Another common way for grandparents to obtain custody rights is part of a juvenile court action seeking to declare the parents unfit. Normally this kind of action is initiated by Utah’s child protective services agency. If the juvenile court finds a parent unfit it may award custody to a grandparent if it is in the child’s best interest. Depending on the circumstances this custody order may be temporary or permanent. Often the juvenile court will offer the parents “reunification services” to help them fix the problems which led to them losing custody in hopes they will reform and the children can be safely returned to their care. If the parent is able to reform then the Court may eventually restore custody to them. But in extreme cases the Court may end up terminating the parent’s rights in which case grandparents or other interested relatives may acquire permanent custody of the children.

Custody for Persons Other Than a Parent Act

Utah law allows grandparents to bring an independent lawsuit seeking custody rights over their children under a law called the Custody for Persons Other than a Parent Act. To acquire custody rights a grandparent must show:

(a) they intentionally assumed the role and obligations of a parent; (b) formed an emotional bond and created a parent-child type relationship with the child; (c) contributed emotionally or financially to the child’s well being; (d) their assumption of the parental role is not the result of a financially compensated surrogate care arrangement; (e) continuation of their relationship with the child would be in the child’s best interests; (f) loss or cessation of that relationship would be detrimental to the child; and (g) the parent: (i) is absent; or (ii) is found by a court to have abused or neglected the child.

The last part is often the most difficult to establish: you have to prove the objecting parent is missing or has “abused or neglected” the grandchild. This is a high legal standard. It requires more than proving a parent is not making the best parenting decisions. Rather you must show those decisions are so bad they have or will result in significant harm to their child unless the court orders custody to the grandparents. However, grandparents can meet this high standard if they come to court prepared. Usually they will need expert assistance to meet this standard like a child custody evaluator.

Grandparent Visitation Act

Lastly, Utah has a statute that allows grandparents to seek visitation rights. The law says grandparents must generally show: (a) the petitioner is a fit and proper person to have visitation with the grandchild; (b) visitation with the grandchild has been denied or unreasonably limited; (c) the parent is unfit or incompetent; (d) the petitioner has acted as the grandchild’s custodian or caregiver, or otherwise has had a substantial relationship with the grandchild, and the loss or cessation of that relationship is likely to cause harm to the grandchild; (e) the petitioner’s child, who is a parent of the grandchild, has died, or has become a noncustodial parent through divorce or legal separation; (f) the petitioner’s child, who is a parent of the grandchild, has been missing for an extended period of time; or (g) visitation is in the best interest of the grandchild.

However, in the recent case of Jones v. Jones both the Utah Court of Appeals and Supreme Court declared this law unconstitutional except in compelling circumstances where a child would suffer significant harm without court-mandated grandparent visitation.The grandparents in that case had a warm, loving relationship with their grandchild and shared in caregiving responsibilities with the father but never actually assumed the role of a “parent” towards their grandchild. Short of proving the parents unfit, the ruling suggests grandparents must prove they once served as their grandkids’ primary caregiver and established a parent-like relationship with the grandchildren (as distinguished from a grandparent-child relationship) over a long period of time to meet this high standard. Again, grandparents can meet this high standard if they come to court prepared, but it is harder to do so now than in years past.

Call Us Today

Do you need help obtaining grandparent rights or defending against a lawsuit from grandparents? Give the experienced, aggressive attorneys at Wiser Family Law a call at 855-254-2600. You can also contact us via the Web.


I have a very detailed case as a grandparent we want to return our granddaughter to our home from a kinship placement to my sisters home? The state did not explain to my daughter not to us that IF my daughter doesn’t complete all required court ordered obligations whoever my granddaughter is living with will have the opportunity to adopt her? WE would have NEVER let her go had we been told that? Pls help us call me if possible! Thank u so much
Maelynn Tanoai
801 836-1397

I have a grandson who lives with a narcissist schizophrenia and other bad disorders, the mother is a non stop drug addict and in and out of jail. I want custody of him so that he can grow up in a good normal environment. My son stayed that he would sign over custody to me. The mother is abisive to my 9 month old grandson and and doing not understand why the law allows her to keep being around my grandson she has attacked my son and me at times from pure jealousy and being on drugs she has bad hallucinations and it scares me to have her with him please what can I do

My son and I have had a working and non working relationship. It seems I can’t do or say anything without a consequence. In the past he has blocked me from having a relationship with him which has trickled down to my grand child. I saw them Sept 4th. My son wished me well as I was reuniting with my former husband. Now, because I did reunite I was told I was on the ‘priority list’ to see their new baby and their 3 year old but not my husband. Upon challenging them as to why my husband couldn’t be with me as I have to travel 12 hours to see them worrying I might fall asleep at the wheel. Nothing worked and when I told my son his restrictions were rediculous, he said I am not allowed to come and see him or his children. I am heart broken. I am a loving, fun grandma and they have kept me from bonding with the first grand child. Now I don’t even get the joy of welcoming the new baby. I have tried to encourage my son in working out our issues without texting. I don’t want to miss out on the future relationship I could have with his children. I had gifts to bring and was told to leave it with his older brother. What are my rights?

I currently have temporary legal guardianship of my 4 year old granddaughter. Her father (My son) is incarcerated. The mother signed the temporary forms in front of a notary but the six months allowed for temporary ends on December 31st. I do not believe the mother is any more ready to be the full time parent than she was when she signed it in July. If she agrees to continuing my guardianship, what do we need to do? Does it need to go to court? If we just want to continue it for another 6 months what should we do?

I have been with my daughter and grandson whom will be 2 next month. From the day he was born up until 2 months ago. My daughter who suffers from server depression I feel is going through a midlife crisis has stopped every and all contact. I have never failed financial or physical help with either of them. He and I are so close and I worry it’s going to take a huge toll on my baby!
Please let me know if you or anyone can help.
Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *