Grandparents in Texas have limited rights to visitation and custody of their grandchildren. Texas allows grandparents, under specific circumstances, to file a petition requesting visitation and/or custody of a a grandchild, but generally speaking, these rights may only attach in situations where there has been a fundamental breakdown in the child's relationships with her parents.
Grandparent visitation rights are in a period of flux across the nation. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court handed down the Troxel v. Granville decision which ruled that grandparents may not obtain visitation with a grandchild over a parent's objection unless there has been some finding of deficiency in a parent. Since this decision, every state's grandparent visitation statutes have been going through dramatic changes as they are redrafted to comply with the Troxel decision. Texas is no different in this regard, its Supreme Court has considered the issue three times since the Troxel decision.
Custody and Visitation
Grandparent rights are covered generally under subchapter H, and the grounds for suit to gain possession or access are covered under Sec.153.432 of the Texas Family Code. Generally speaking, a judge may order visitation with a grandchild if the parental rights of at least one parent have not been terminated, the child is related via marriage/blood, and there has been a breakdown in the primary parental relationship with the child.
Breakdown in the Parental Relationship
The breakdown in parental relationship with the child that may allow a grandparent to request access include a parent having been found incompetent, incarceration of grandparent's child (who is in turn the parent of the grandchild in question), divorce/separation for at least 3 months (note legal separation does not exist in Texas) or death. In addition, a grandparent may request access if the grandchild has been abused or neglected, or has been deemed to be a child in need or supervision. Finally, if the parents have terminated their relationship with the grandchild, or if the grandchild has resided with grandparents for at least six months during the previous two years, grandparents may file their request.
Tex. Fam. Code Section 153.433(2) does allow for grandparents access over the parent's objections. This occurs only if denial would represent a significant impairment of the child's physical health, or emotional well-being. Texas courts have noted that mere feelings of sadness of a child do not rise to the level of significant emotional impairment.
If either of the parent's rights have been terminated by Court Order or death, or if the grandchild has been adopted by someone other than the surviving parent, a grandparent cannot request visitation.