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Supreme Court Rules Against Grandparents

Dateline: 06/05/00

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a 6-3 ruling striking down as unconstitutional a Washington state law under which courts could force parents to allow grandparents to visit their children.

Under the Washington law in question, courts could order visitation rights to a child's grandparents or any other person at any time if the judge determined the visitation would be in the "best interest" of the child.

"'Washington Rev. Code §26.10.160(3) permits '[a]ny person' to petition for visitation rights 'at any time' and authorizes state superior courts to grant such rights whenever visitation may serve a child's best interest.'" -- From the Supreme Court's decision of 6/5/00)

Writing in the Supreme Court's majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'conner states that the visitation order of the Washington law was "breathtakingly broad" and in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

In the case - Troxel v. Granville - the Troxels, asked a Washington court to grant them rights to visit the daughters of their deceased son. Granville, the mother of the girls, did not oppose the request, but objected to the amount of visitation time sought by the Troxels. A Washington State Superior Court ordered more visitation time than Granville desired, and she appealed. The Washington State Court of Appeals sided with Granville and overturned the Troxel's petition for visitation. The State Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals, ruling that the state law, "unconstitutionally infringes on parents' fundamental right to rear their children." The Troxels then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Today's ruling dealt with issues of federal vs. states' rights and the rights of the individual, and was one of the most eagerly awaited decisions of this Supreme Court term. 

"'The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall 'deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.' We have long recognized that the Amendment's Due Process Clause, like its Fifth Amendment counterpart, 'guarantees more than fair process.' Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 719 (1997). The Clause also includes a substantive component that 'provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests.'" -- From the Supreme Court's decision of 6/5/00)

Most states have laws providing visitation rights for both maternal and paternal grandparents. Applications for rights to visit unmarried minor children are typically filed with the District Courts of these states. Washington's law, however, was one of the least restrictive in the nation, allowing any person to petition for visitation with any child.

(Complete text of decision: Troxel v. Granville - No. 99-138. Argued January 12, 2000--Decided June 5, 2000)

For a detailed legal analysis of this decision, see:
Grandparent visitation ruling a minimalist approach  
How many of us do not have first hand experience with the stresses of relating to grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren? Yet, it appears to me that the court simply decided that this case wasn't really so interesting after all, and made its decision on the simplest grounds, declining to really address the questions expected.  Expert analysis from Law Guide Paul S. Reed

Reference Links

Alternatives to court for grandparents
Ways for grandparents to gain visitation without court intervention. From Cyberparent.com

Grandparent Visitation Rights are Anti-Family
Opinion from ParentsRights.org against laws allowing courts to liberally grant visitation rights to grandparents.

Organization supporting grandparent visitation laws.

Why Can't I See Grandma Anymore?
The Supreme Court has said 'hands off' when it comes to intervening between parents and grandparents. With an estimated 60 million grandparents nationwide, it may prove to be a unpopular decision. Analysis from
Senior Living Guide Donna B. Yeaw.

The Supreme Court Needs Your Help Poll
Instant opinion polls on the grandparent visitation decision and other major cases before the Supreme Court from Crime Guide Bill Bickel.

Grandparents' Rights: Lost in Florida?
News and resources related the the decision of the Florida Supreme Court to limit forced visitation with grandparents. From Law Guide Paul S. Reed.

Grandparents as Parents
A new lifestyle is emerging, grandparents raising their grandchildren. From Senior Living Guide Donna B. Yeaw.

Grandparent Rights Information
What are the rights of grandparents? From Step-parenting Guide Lynne Crowder.

Grandparent Adoption
More and more frequently, grandparents are adopting their grandchildren and becoming parents... again. Information, resources, and support. From Adoption Guide Nancy S. Stanfield.

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