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A grandparent's survey about close ties between grandparents and their grandchildren
Grandparenting: by the American Association of Retired Persons
Do your grandparents send you a yearly birthday card? Or did they help raise you? Chances are-- in a small or large way-- your grandparents have been a part of your life.
So what happens if your parents divorce? Will your grandparents still be part of your life? What if the divorce is bitter? Could your parent try to stop your grandparents from seeing you?
The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that grandparents do not have an automatic right to visit their grandchildren. That decision was based on a Washington State case involving the grandparents of two sisters, ages 8 and 10. The Supreme Court said a state law giving the grandparents visitation rights actually violated the U.S. Constitution.
Six judges, the majority, sided with parents over grandparents in in the case. Three judges disagreed.
The court said the most important aspect of the argument is the right of parents to raise their children free from government interference.
The Constitution still "leaves
room for states to consider
A Family Affair
The case, Troxel v. Granville, was highly controversial. It raised numerous questions, including whether parents have an absolute right to decide how to raise their children and how society should define family relationships.
The recent Supreme Court decision put an end to the debate, at least for now.
The case began in 1993 when Jenifer and Gary Troxel sued for the right to visit their granddaughters, Natalie and Isabelle. The girls were the children of their son Brad and his former girlfriend, Tommie Granville.
The Troxel grandparents had the right to sue for visiting privileges under "grandparents' rights laws" which have been enacted by all 50 states.
Although Brad and Tommie never married they lived together for two years. When the couple broke up, the girls occasionally visited their father at the Troxels' home. But after Brad committed suicide in 1993, Tommie began to limit visits with the Troxel grandparents.
Unhappy with the amount of time they were permitted to spend with their granddaughters, the Troxels decided to go to court.
The Lower Courts Fight it Out
They based their lawsuit on a Washington state law that allowed "any person" to request visitation rights "at any time" so long as the arrangement is in the "best interests" of the child.
In 1995, a Washington state trial court entered a visitation decree and ordered the girls to spend one weekend night each month with their grandparents, as well as one week during the summer and four hours on their birthdays.
Their mother appealed and in December of 1998 the Supreme Court of Washington reversed the trial court's decision.
The court ruled that, as long as a child is not being harmed, the United States Constitution gives parents a fundamental right to raise their children without government interference. Because Washington's law intruded on that fundamental right, the law was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court agreed.
The Supreme Court Steps In
When the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, it found itself in the midst of a politically charged debate.
To understand this ruling, you have to look at the Washington law carefully.
Unlike other states, Washington did not limit its law to grandparents. Instead the law was broadly written to permit a range of people to request visitation rights. This could include step-parents, same-sex partners of a biological parent or distant relatives.
Although the Washington State Legislature amended the law in 1996 to require that any non-parent seeking visitation demonstrate that they have a significant relationship with the child, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the law in its original form.
This led to some unlikely alliances. Traditionally liberal organizations opposed to the law for intruding on parents' rights found themselves in the same camp as conservative organizations seeking to preserve the traditional family unit of married parents and their children.
On the other side of the debate were organizations claiming that the bonds between children and their grandparents are critically important and traditional notions of the family must be re-examined in the modern world.
The decision affects millions of people. Sixty million Americans are grandparents, including six of the of the Supreme Court judges.
--contributed by Sandra Velvel
What do you think? Do grandparent's have a right to visit their grandchildren against the wishes of their parents?
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