Parents' legal rights with regards to their children are thoroughly codified in California law. However, when both parents are incapable of caring for children, the next of kin may wind up with custody, and this often means the grandparents. Family law in California is unfortunately not so forthcoming in providing for grandparents' legal rights when they end up raising their grandchildren.
Simply put, in California, grandparents are not viewed the same as parents. If grandparents wish to gain custody of a minor grandchild or grandchildren, they must be appointed as guardian. The process can be difficult: the law demands that the grandparents prove that becoming the guardian is in the best interests of the child. They must prove that they are better for the child than the child's own parents. Grandparents do not have visitation rights either, and parents can contest any petition that a grandparent presents for visitation privileges.
There are a few circumstances when a grandparent can legally request visitation with the grandchildren. If the child's parents are separated or divorced, the grandparent may be able to request visitation. If the child's parents are unmarried, living separately or if one of the parents dies, grandparents may also seek to gain visitation privileges. It is important to remember that even under those circumstances the decision will not come easily. If the parents push back against the grandparents' petition, their objection will be taken very seriously.
If grandparents are facing this type of family law issue, working with an experienced attorney may help them understand their options. Ultimately, any legal decision that is made as a result will hopefully be one that will be in the best interests of the child and also satisfy the grandparents and parents at the same time.
Source: UnionCityPatch, "Legal Issue Of The Week: Do grandparents have legal rights over their grandchildren?," Lisi Munayco, March 4, 2013