When a separation or divorce occurs, more people than just the parents and children are affected. Often grandparents and other relatives lose the opportunity to visit the children they love.
"It takes a village to raise a child" — African proverb
Although formally a marriage is between two individuals, in practical and emotional terms it can seem like marriage is between two extended families. In most of the world, in fact, marriages are still often arranged between families more than between individuals. In times past, even in this country, more than just the parents raised a child; it was a family affair with grandparents, aunts and uncles all playing a part.
Today, family structures can be vastly different. Nuclear families may consist of married or unmarried parents, but it is primarily the parent or parents managing the child rearing. Yet, still, when nuclear families are broken apart, the extended family members also suffer.
Parents have the right to determine who visits their children.
Although Virginia law says parents should encourage the relationships between a child and extended family, the right of both natural parents, whether married or not, to determine who associates with their children is paramount. If mom and dad agree they do not want grandpa around junior, mom and dad will prevail, unless grandpa can prove the child will suffer serious harm if such visitation does not occur; that is very difficult to prove.
If, however, the biological parents disagree on whether extended family can have contact with their children, the relatives can file for visitation rights without having to prove that the kids will be harmed without the relatives' interaction — a much easier hurdle to clear. I have had cases where one of the natural parents is deceased and the grandparents on the deceased’s side desperately want to maintain contact with their grandchildren. If the surviving parent refuses such contact, there is nothing the grandparents can do. In our legal culture, natural parents are very strongly presumed to know what is best for their own children, even at great emotional cost resulting from loss of contact with grandparents, and the state, via its courts, will not interfere.
And beware: It is fairly common for a grandparent to become over-involved in the dispute between the biological parents, even to the extent of becoming the driving force behind the litigation. Judges are emphatically not pleased to see this. The courts expect parenting decisions to be made by parents.