Do grandparents get visitation rights? Supreme Court declines case.
The Supreme Court declined to hear a case in which grandparents demanded to visit their grandchildren but the parents intervened. The lack of a decision leaves no clear constitutional standard on the issue.
Two Alabama grandparents have lost their bid to have court-ordered regular visits with their teenaged granddaughters.Skip to next paragraph
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The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up the grandparent’s appeal in a case testing when a judge can force objecting parents to permit regular visits between a grandparent and grandchildren.
The high court action allows a decision of the Alabama Supreme Court to stand. The Alabama high court had ruled in favor of the parents who opposed court-intervention in the grandparent visitation dispute.
All 50 states have grandparent visitation laws in which a judge can require regular access to one’s grandchildren.
But what is less clear is how a judge is to rule when the child’s parents are opposed to such grandparent visitation.
At issue in ERG v. EHG (11-311) was whether the fundamental right of parents to decide how best to raise their children includes the authority to deny grandparents an opportunity to visit with their grandchildren.
The high court last examined the thorny issue of grandparent visitation in a 2000 case. The court sided with the parent over the grandparents, but the justices declined to identify a clear constitutional standard that could be easily applied in future cases involving visitation disputes between parents and grandparents.
Lawyers for the Alabama grandparents were hoping the Supreme Court would use their case to revisit the issue and set a brighter constitutional standard.
The issue arose in an Alabama case involving an intact family with mother, father, and two daughters living together. The family had been close to the paternal grandparents, with the children developing a strong relationship with their grandparents. A business dispute led to a falling out within the family. The parents cut off contact between the grandparents and the children.
The grandparents placed signs declaring their continued love of the girls along the bus route the girls traveled to school, and they attended the girl’s softball games and other public activities as an opportunity to see them.
Eventually, the grandparents sued for more regular access under Alabama’s Grandparent Visitation Act. The trial judge ruled for the grandparents, ordering unsupervised visitation for several hours every Friday afternoon, visits the day before their birthday and Christmas afternoon, as well as daily telephone communication.
The parents appealed, and the appeals court reversed. The case went to the Alabama Supreme Court.
In addition to upholding the parents’ right to decide the issue, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down the state law, the Grandparent Visitation Act, in its entirety as a violation of the parents’ due process rights. The court said that the parents’ right to raise their children may not be undercut by a judge in a visitation rights case unless a judge has already determined that the parents were “unfit.”