Grandparent Rights - The Legacy of Troxel v. Granville

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Relatives, In The News

If grandparents in traditional families sometimes feel neglected, those who are part of troubled family units suffer even more so.

Amy Goyer, grandparenting and family columnist for the AARP, told ParentDish that divorce is not the only factor heating up the grandparent rights debate. The increase in teen pregnancy and substance abuse during the last several years have also played a role in sending grandparents to court to fight for visitation.

"Many disagreements were emotional, not legal," Victor added.

One such case was Troxel v. Granville, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on in 2000. While Victor spent years addressing the legal fallout, he said the 2000 Troxel v. Granville Supreme Court decision undid some of the progress.

The Troxels, a Washington state couple, were the paternal grandparents of two girls born out of wedlock. They had frequent visits with their grandchildren before their son and the mother of his children split up. When the Troxel's son committed suicide two years later, and the girls' mother married, the mother limited the grandparents' visits.

Because the parents weren't married, the Troxels could only petition the court using a broad state statute that says any "third party" could ask for visitation rights. The Supreme Court ruled against the Troxels because the state law was too broad and took away parental authority by putting the burden of proof on the mother. But the six opinions rendered offered different interpretations for how courts should evaluate similar cases. One opinion gave special weight to a parent's position, but allowed room for grandparents to gain visitation rights if the grandparents proved it was in the child's best interest.

This ruling was widely misinterpreted as a blow to grandparent rights and some states began favoring parental rights at the cost of a true evaluation of each case, said Victor.

"We are on unsteady ground," added Goyer of the current climate on the Troxel v. Granville case.

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