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.