Parents’ Rights vs. Grandparents’ Rights

Grandparents can be an integral part of some children’s lives. However, if conflicts arise between parents and grandparents, how do parents’ rights legally stack up against grandparents’ rights?

Individual states have their own laws, and for the most part, courts at the state level decide family issues. Even so, some cases have risen to the federal level based on Constitutional rights. Consequently, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the cases dealing with grandparents’ rights and rendered decisions. In 2000, one such case in had a significant impact on grandparents’ rights nationwide. It subsequently affected legislation in a number of states. Interestingly, the Supreme Court judges in this case did not unanimously agree. Three of the Supreme Court justices dissented against the ruling, four justices joined in the ruling, and two other justices filed opinions concurring with the ruling.

Troxel v. Granville

The name of the case was Troxel v. Granville. In this case, the mother, Tommie Granville, objected to the amount of visitation time the Troxel grandparents wanted to spend with her two daughters. The girls’ father, Brad Troxel, had committed suicide. Tommie had re-married, and her husband had adopted the girls. Tommie appealed the Washington Superior Court's ruling that granted more visitation time than she felt was desirable. The Washington State Court of Appeals reversed and dismissed the Troxels’ petition. When the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case, it also upheld the state appellate court's ruling. It stated that the lower court's ruling had interfered with the parent's right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.

The existing Washington State statute had allowed third parties to petition for visitation whenever they believed it was in the child's best interest. However, this statute put the burden of proof on the parent. The U.S Supreme Court explained that requiring parents to disprove that third party visitation was in the child's best interest was unconstitutional. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, unless a court finds that the parent is an unfit, the Due Process Clause leaves decisions in the parent's hands. Fit parents have the right to make decisions about their children’s upbringing without interference from the government.

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