The US Supreme Court has dealt a major setback to the
grandparents' rights movement with a decision that makes it much
harder for them to obtain court-ordered visitation with their
Instead, the nation's highest court ruled that parents have a
constitutional right to raise their children free from undue
interference from grandparents and state judges.
The decision marks the first time the high court has ruled in a
case that implicates the overlapping and conflicting rights of
parents, grandparents, and children. It comes at a time when
traditional two-parent families are under siege with high rates of
divorce and an increasing number of US children being raised in
In essence, the ruling reaffirms that parental rights remain one
of the strongest pillars of American law.
"Every grandparent in the United States will listen and wonder,
'What if this were my grandchild and I wasn't being allowed to see
them?' " says Sandra Morgan Little, chairwoman of the American Bar
Association's family law section. "It also shows that family
relationships ... do not fit well into the judicial system."
In a 6-to-3 decision announced yesterday, the high court decided
that while grandparents have important interests in participating in
the upbringing of their grandchildren, the ultimate decision on whom
visits with a child rests primarily with the child's parents.
"In an ideal world, parents might always seek to cultivate the
bonds between grandparents and their grandchildren," writes Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor in the majority opinion. "Needless to say,
however, our world is far from perfect, and in it, the decision
whether such an intergenerational relationship would be beneficial
... is for the parent to make."
In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens writes: "It seems clear
to me that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment leaves room
for states to consider the impact on a child of possibly arbitrary
parental decisions that neither serve nor are motivated by the best
interests of the child."
The high court's ruling strikes down a Washington State law that
empowered judges to grant visitation rights to grandparents and
other third parties over a parent's objection.
The ruling does not strike down any other state grandparent
visitation laws, but it will have an impact on how existing
visitation laws in the other 49 states are enforced. In addition,
the decision does not define the precise scope of a parent's rights
in all visitation cases. Instead, the majority only struck down the
Washington State law which it found to be "breathtakingly broad."
The ruling marks a significant defeat to the growing
grandparents' rights movement and creates a legal roadblock to many
grandparents who feel they have no other recourse but to turn to the
courts to attempt to gain access to their grandchildren. …