How to Obtain Custody of a Grandchild From the State of Florida
By Claire Gillespie
Updated August 06, 2018
Grandparents often play an active, significant role in their grandchildren’s lives. They may help out with babysitting, contribute financially or have their grandkids stay overnight on a regular basis. However, it’s quite a different story to have legal custody of your grandchild, and to do so the grandparent has to go through a complicated legal process. If the grandchild has been placed in Florida’s foster care system, the Florida Department of Children and Families is likely to be involved.
Grandparents' Custody Rights in Florida
In Florida, grandparents do not have automatic legal rights to custody of a grandchild based on the familial relationship alone. Reasons grandparents can file for legal custody of a grandchild include:
- If both parents are deceased, missing or in a persistent vegetative state.
- If one parent is deceased, missing or in a persistent vegetative state and the other parent has been convicted of a felony or offence of violence involving behavior that poses a substantial threat of harm to the child.
Visitation for Grandparents in Florida
A grandparent in Florida may petition the court for visitation to have more direct contact with his grandchild. Ask the clerk of the circuit court in the county in which you live for the correct form. You may file the form electronically or by handing it to the clerk of court. If the child's parents have signed waivers of service of process and do not contest your petition, you can set a final hearing. The child's parents must be informed of the hearing date. If one of the parents is deceased, you must file a certified copy of the death certificate or other proof of death. If you don't have waivers of service of process, and the parents contest your petition, you must notify them of the petition. This can be done by personal service or by constructive service if you don't know where the parents live after completing all of the searches listed in the Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry.
The court holds a preliminary hearing to determine whether you have made a sufficient case of parental unfitness or significant harm to the child. If the court finds evidence that a parent is unfit, it may appoint a guardian ad litem to look after the child’s best interests. If the parents are personally served, they have 20 days to answer the petition. If no answer is filed after this time, you may file a Motion for Default with the clerk of court. You must also file a Notice for Trial, which sets a date for a final hearing.
If either parent files an answer that disagrees with or denies anything in your petition, and you are unable to settle the disputed issues, you must file a Notice for Trial to request a final hearing. Some courts require the completion of a mediation process before a final hearing is set. If the case is resolved at mediation, there is no need for a final hearing.
The court will only grant visitation to a grandparent if the parent is unfit or there is significant harm to the child. Visitation must be in the best interests of the child and should not cause substantial harm to the parent-child relationship. In Florida, a grandparent is also entitled to reasonable visitation with her grandchild if the child has been removed from the parents’ home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Temporary Child Custody for Grandparents
If you want temporary custody of your grandchild, file the Petition for Temporary Custody by Extended Family form with the clerk of the circuit court in the county in which you live. You can file for temporary custody of your grandchild if you have the signed consent of the child's legal parents or you are caring for the child on a full-time basis in the role of a substitute parent, and the child is presently living with you.
At any stage, the child's parent can petition the court to modify or terminate the order granting temporary custody to the grandparent. The court will terminate the order if it finds that the parent is a fit parent or if all parties consent to the termination. The court may modify an order granting temporary custody if the parties consent or if the modification is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.
- Online Sunshine: The 2018 Florida Statutes Title XLIII Domestic Relations Chapter 752 Grandparental Visitation Rights
- Florida Courts: Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.970(a), Petition for Temporary Custody by Extended Family
- Online Sunshine: The 2018 Florida Statutes Title V Judicial Branch Chapter 39 Proceedings Relating to Children
- Clerk of the Circuit Court Hillsborough County, Florida: Instructions for the Completion of a Blank Family Law Petition
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Custody Options
- Florida Courts: Instructions for Affidavit of Diligent Search and Inquiry
- Temporary custody can be for a specified time, but it can also be indefinite -- until further order of the court.
Claire Gillespie writes about health, science, home and parenting. She has bylines on SELF, SheKnows, The Washington Post, Vice and more.