Michael Jackson's death was not only the passing of a pop star icon; it was the passing of a father. Jackson left behind three young children: Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and Prince Michael II, seven. Jackson's former wife Debbie Rowe gave birth to the older two kids. The youngest was born to a surrogate mother.
The legal custody battle for the kids began right after Michael's death. On June 29, a Los Angeles Superior Court granted temporary custody of the children to Katherine Jackson, Michael's 79-year-old mother. A short while later, Rowe, the biological mom of two of the children, entered into a custody agreement with Katherine. The court approved the agreement that gave Katherine permanent custody of the kids and allowed Rowe visitation.
Keeping the Kids Away From Grandpa Joe
Katherine and Rowe also apparently agreed the kids should be protected from Michael's overbearing dad, Joe Jackson. Joe is accused of beating Michael when he was a boy. He's blamed for causing many of Michael's emotional problems. Joe denies all allegations of abuse.
Can Joe be kept away from his grandkids in the wake of Michael's death? Do grandparents have a legal right to visit their grandchildren?
Grandparent Visitation Rights
In recent years, courts and state lawmakers have recognized the benefits of helping grandparents stay involved with their grandchildren after the death or divorce of the children's parents. Forty-five states, including California, have enacted grandparent visitation laws. These laws don't give grandparents an absolute right to visit their grandchildren. Rather, they give grandparents standing, or the right to sue, for a court order to allow them access to their grandchildren.
Courts grant visitation to grandparents if they determine it is in the best interests of the grandchildren. In deciding what's best for grandchildren, courts look at factors including:
- Quality of past interactions between the grandparents and grandchildren
- Grandparents' ability to give their grandchildren love and affection
- Grandparents' mental and physical ability to handle visits with grandchildren
- Grandparents' moral fitness
- Grandchildren's wishes
- Impact that visitation would have on the rest of the family
Another important and overriding factor in determining grandparent visitation is the wishes of any custodial parent. Parents have a fundamental, constitutional right to make decisions regarding the care of their children. This right requires courts to give special weight to any objections by fit parents to visits by grandparents.
Under California law, Joe Jackson has a lawful right to seek visits with his grandkids. But to be awarded visitation, he must show it's in the kids' best interests. Given the allegations of abuse against Joe, that may be very hard to do.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My will names guardians for my children, but should I also include my wishes for grandparent visitation? How do courts view such statements if custody and visitation issues arise after a parent dies?
- How likely is an award for grandparent visitation if the grandparent and the deceased parent were estranged, but there's no basis to show that the grandparent visitation would harm the grandchild?
- How is grandparent visitation managed - who pays for transportation, decides schedules, etc.?