Grandparent Visitation in Iowa


In Iowa, a grandparent or great-grandparent can ask a court to grant visitation with their grandchildren or great-grandchildren only in the limited and unfortunate circumstance where their own child (the parent of the child in question) is deceased.  If the grandparent’s child is living, a grandparent has no legal right to visitation and the child’s parents can decide who sees the child.

A grandparent whose child is deceased and who seeks visitation must show all of the following:

  • A Substantial Relationship with the grandchild.

  • A grandparent could show this by:

    • The grandparent can prove the grandchild lives with or financially supports the grandchild for six months or more, or

    • The grandparent can prove frequent visitation over a period of at least a year.

  • The Custodial Parent is unfit to make the visitation decision or their judgment has been impaired.

    • Some ways a grandparent could show impaired judgment include neglect or abuse of the child, violence toward the child, substance use disorder or mental illness.

    • Visitation is in the best interests of the child.

  • A court could consider a number of things, including:

    • Relationships with other family members

    • How far away the grandparents live

    • The grandchild’s and parent’s available time

    • The grandchild’s age

    • The grandchild’s health and safety

    • The health of all parties

    • Whether the grandparents have ever been guilty of child neglect or abuse in certain other situations.

These tests are almost always hard to meet and the surviving parent may claim the law is unconstitutional.  

Since there is no guarantee the court will grant any visitation to grandparents, keep these things in mind:

  • Grandparents need to think of other ways to solve this kind of problem.

  • Consider mediation, family counseling or therapy.

  • Grandparents can try to keep relationships with letters, phone calls or email.

  • A lawsuit can be costly, lengthy and almost sure to make things worse.

  • Use of the courts should be a last resort. 

If you have a visitation order from before the year 2010, the current law may mean challenges to current visitation orders if your son or daughter is still alive.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275. 
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer.”   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Last Review and Update: Nov 28, 2023
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