Most of the time, grandparents have a very special place in the lives and hearts of their grandchildren. They give love and gifts to the grandchildren, and support and free childcare to their grandchildren’s parents.
But increasingly, grandparents are playing a larger practical role in the lives of their grandchildren, and the reasons why are sometimes tragic. Recent research suggests that in states with higher rates of opioid use and addiction, there were correspondingly high rates of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Unfortunately, Mississippi is near the top of the list.
The study relied on census data from 2012 through 2016, and identified the four states with the highest rates of opioid use and of grandparents over age 30 acting as primary caregivers to their grandkids. Those states were: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Grandparents may be taking care of their grandkids while parents are incarcerated, in rehab, or in some cases, simply unable to manage day-to-day life. Regardless of the circumstances, the bond formed between grandparents and grandkids during this time is an important one. If and when the parents reenter the picture, that bond should be maintained, if at all possible.
This raises an important point about grandparents’ rights. Nationwide, parents usually have primary discretion about how to raise their children (and who to allow contact with) as long as their children’s needs are being met. That could include the right to prohibit contact with grandparents (no matter how harsh that may seem).
However, grandparents can petition for (and judges can order) reasonable visitation rights in cases where maintaining strong ties with grandparents would be in a child’s best interests. After serving in a primary caregiving role, many judges would strongly consider such assertions about the importance of maintaining that relationship.
Mississippi also tends to have stronger laws protecting grandparents’ rights than other states do. In Mississippi, grandparents can petition for visitation if they’ve had a strong relationship with the children that needs to be maintained, including frequent visitation over the past year or providing financial support for one or more grandchildren for at least six months. They can also petition to preserve visitation rights if the children’s parents are going through a divorce/separation or if one of the children’s parents dies.
Of course, in the case of opioid abuse and addiction, there is also the real possibility that parents could lose parental rights altogether and grandparents would have an opportunity to adopt their grandchildren. In such cases, it can be very helpful and reassuring to work with an experienced family law attorney.
If you have questions about grandparent adoptions, please visit the adoptions page on our website.