US Supreme Court Ruling on Grandparent Visitation Rights

Grandparent Visitation Rights

What visitation rights do grandparents have?

Until the 1970s, the visitation rights of grandparents and other non-parents did not exist. Until very recently visitation rights only applied to the child’s parents. Fortunately, today every state has created laws relating to the visitation rights of grandparents and other non-parents. Non-parents would include people such as step-parents, caregivers, and foster parents.

State statutory guidelines

For granting visitation rights to grandparents, each state has incorporated statutory guidelines. The purpose of this is to allow grandparents to continue having contact with their grandchildren.

There are two main types of law that are in existence regarding this matter.

1. Restrictive visitation statutes

These only allow grandparents to have visitation rights if one or both of the parents are deceased or if the parents have divorced.

2. Permissive visitation statutes

These allow a third party or grandparents to request access to the child even if the parents are still married or alive. As in all situations, the court will consider the best interests of the child. The courts have ruled that visits are allowed if they believe it’s in the best interests of the child to have contact with their grandparents

Grandparents visitation rights and the US Supreme Court ruling

Under the US constitution, parents have a legal right to make decisions as to how their children are brought up.

Troxel v Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)

This is a case where the grandparents sought visitation rights after the mother of the children, Tommie Granville, limited their access to the children to one visit per month and some holidays. Under Washington state law, the third party could seek to petition state courts so that they can gain child visitation rights in spite of any parental objections.

The court’s decision

The US Supreme Court decided that Tommie Granville’s rights as a parent and the application of the Washington statute, violated her rights as a parent to make decisions about the control, custody, and care of her children.

Note – No finding was made by the court as to whether all non-parent visitation statutes violate the Constitution. The decision made by the court was restricted solely to Washington and the statute they were dealing with.

Further, it was held by the court that the Washington statute was too broad in its nature. This was because it allowed a court to override a parent’s decision about the grandparents’ visitation rights.  This decision was made despite the parent being in a position where they could made a perfectly sound judgement on the matter.

The statute allowed a judge to grant visitation rights to any person who made a petition for those rights if the judge determined that it was in the best interest of the child. This then overrules the judgement and decision of the parents. The court held that the Washington statute violated parents right to raise their children if a judge granted this power.

What was the effect of Troxel vs Granville?

  • The court did not find that visitation laws are unconstitutional.
  • Third-party petitioners are still allowed in every state to seek visitation rights.
  • Many states only consider visitation rights by third parties to be a minor burden on parents right to have control of the upbringing of their children.
  • After the Troxel case, many states now place great weight on what a fit parent’s decision is regarding what is best for their child when deciding whether to grant visitation rights.

If you are a grandparent who seeks visitation rights, do you need to go to court?

Often these matters can be dealt with without resorting to having the matter settled in court. Mediation is often a successful way to settle disputes without financial costs of putting the matter before a court.