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Susan Adcox

Supreme Court Disappoints Grandparents—Again

By February 23, 2012

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After undermining the grandparent visitation statutes of most states back in 2000, the Supreme Court has declined to address the damage it did with the Troxel v. Granville decision. In that case, the court ruled that "fit parents" must be presumed to act in the best interests of their children when deciding who should have contact with them.

Hopes were high that the Supremes would agree to hear an Alabama case, E.R.G. v. E.H.G, and in the process offer some elucidation about what circumstances are needed for a grandparent to win visitation rights. The issue is sufficiently complex that five other states had joined Alabama in requesting that the case be heard.

According to the story as reported by Reuters, Alabama is one of the 18 states that require grandparents to present a "compelling circumstance" before winning visitation. Nineteen states have much more lenient statutes that leave much up to the discretion of the judge. The remaining states don't fit neatly into either category.

In the Alabama case, as in many other cases I'm familiar with, the grandparents and grandchildren supposedly had a close relationship before a dispute caused a rift in the family.  In this case, it was a financial dispute. Justice Anthony Kennedy, dissenting in Troxel v. Granville, warned that such cases would arise: "Cases are sure to arise--perhaps a substantial number of cases--in which a third party, by acting in a caregiving role over a significant period of time, has developed a relationship with a child which is not necessarily subject to absolute parental veto."

I may not have all the answers about how grandparent visitation laws should be framed, but I know this much: Access to grandchildren should not be granted or denied as reward or retribution. That's just plain wrong. And I wish the Supreme Court had seen fit to say so.

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February 25, 2012 at 9:57 pm
(1) chausjm says:

Fit parents don’t deny their children their heritage or love from others.
A child’s identity is stripped when he is forbidden to have contact with his roots. What’s FIT about that?

February 27, 2012 at 5:04 pm
(2) GC says:

Well said chausjm!

February 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm
(3) Elena says:

Today Phoenix, AZ Court was against our paternal grandparents natural rights to see our grandchildren. My son is divorced and fighting a sexual abuse from their stepfather. My ex daughter-in law said the judge I told one of my grandsons what to say, and the judge believed her. This is a big injustice.She is protecting her husband and against my grandchildren. I am so sad. I don’t know what to do?

February 28, 2012 at 10:42 am
(4) Rafael says:

If those parents are so “fit,” why is it then that in most of these cases, grandparents find themselves in this situation because they have had to step in and play a very substantial role in raising those children? Wouldn’t the fact that they had to do that (although gladly and caringly) create (in most cases) a reasonable suspicion that the parent may fall a bit short of being “fit”? However, the court chooses to presume that these parents, who in many cases have failed their kids in many ways, are fit without any qualifiers and that they will make decisions in the best interests of their children, even when these so-called parents often use the grandkids as tokens of negotiation with grandpa and grandma. After learning what the court decided, I am glad I didn’t go to law school. It seems to suck the common sense and the concept of justice right out of you.

February 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm
(5) pam moore says:

I have firsthand experience with the horrible juvenile court system in Alabama. I went to court to try to get custody of my then 4yr old grandson who was being brought up by my meth head daughter. The judge didn’t require any further action from social services, not even a home study. He merely asked my daughter if it was “ok” with her, she said “no”. Unbelievably, my lawyer did nothing except steal $1500 from me. As soon as I returned home to Louisiana, I received a call from another family member saying my daughter went to the courthouse with my youngest sister and just signed custody of the boy to her.
He has had a completely chaotic life and my daughter comes and goes in his life as she pleases. Meanwhile, we have not been allowed to see him since 2004.

February 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm
(6) namsue says:

Oh My Goodness! The comment about G’kids being separated from their history really hit home with me!! My son and his first wife (S) divorced, and my son is the custodial parent. Because I still have a good relationship with S, I can visit the kids on the weekends that she has them. My son remarried, and his new wife (B) disliked me the first time she saw me. I have not seen my 7 yr. old grandson since he was about 10 mos old, and I’ve never seen the 4 yr. old except for some contraband pictures. I have done everything I can think of to try to see the younger two, but all to no avail. I can see my son only if I ambush him at work (just kidding) but I do have to drop in unexpectedly and after he gets the chip off his shoulder we can speak civilly (?) for a few minutes. I have asked to be able to have the three older kids for a week in the summer and have never been given an answer. I really don’t want to cut into their mother’s two weeks with them in the summer. I have asked simply to see my two youngest grandsons, and that has never happened and I fear never will. I should mention that I live in VA and they live in SC. One of the court requirements is that you have a good relationship with the G’kids you want to see. I’ve never had a chance to have any relationship with the younger ones, good or otherwise. The three older ones love me and I love them but am able to spend precious little time with them. I really have done nothing to deserve this treatment. I have four other G’kids and have wonderful relationships with them. They know both sides of their family and as much of their family history as they are interested in right now. The SC kids know nothing of their family and very possibly never will. It is so sad for all of us, and there seems to be no way to remedy this situation. It breaks my heart!

April 25, 2012 at 3:14 am
(7) john says:

Whether or not a parent is “fit” is not up to a judge or a grandparent. If parents are truly unfit then a medical doctor should provide the analysis as to whether or not a child’s safety is in question. IF AND ONLY IF the parent’s actions are causing physical or mental harm to a child (determined by a medical professional) should anyone be able to claim the fitness of parents and claim any rights to the children. Grandparent visitation is a privilege, not a right. The courts giving anyone other than a a person who is actually trained to determine the fitness of parents any rights over the parents’ wishes is simply ridiculous. For whatever reason, if a parent does not want someone around their children, that person should stay away, or be escorted away be the police.

June 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm
(8) Mama Pea in Texas says:

John!! Thank you!! Finally someone who is well thought out and intelligent with their comments!!
I have been battling with my daughter’s grandparents since they decided during a summer visit that she didn’t need to wear her hearing aids because they didn’t “believe” that she needs them . . . . . they also encouraged her to lie to me about many different things . . . they undermined my parenting every chance they got . . . I was divorced from their son for 7 years and during that 7 years I NEVER denied visits or contact . . . even drove the distance (they live 4 hours away) so that they could see my daughter . . . they would get upset if I didn’t just drop my own plans so that they could have time with her . . . and got extrememly possessive and jealous when I got involved my now fianc . . . they even told her that she would be an “outcast” and treated “differently” when we blended with his family . . . . my daughter has had many issues because of what they told her and is now in counseling and therapy as a result . . . .
I have had to save 100s of emails documenting their verbal abuse and defamation of my character as they have indirectly threatened to take me to court . . . .
My daughter is the one who suffers . . . they don’t realize the harm they have done . . .
And as long as I live, I will exercise MY RIGHT as her mother to keep her away from anything or anyone who can hurt or harm her . . . .
Again, thank you . . . . it was so nice to read something that actually supports the RIGHTS OF PARENTS!!!!

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