Sharply Reduced Since Troxel v. Granville

The concept of grandparents’ rights – usually meaning grandparents getting court ordered visitation rights with their grandchildren – became more and more in fashion during the 1970s and 1980s. As divorce shattered families, grandparents claimed that they had become victims of their adult children’s marital problems, and some sought to maintain contact with children even against the wishes of their own children.

In 2000, the Supreme Court drew a line in the sand about grandparents’ rights in Troxel v. Granville. The court, citing a number of cases under the Fourteenth Amendment, ruled that parents have a “fundamental liberty interest” in the care, custody and control of the children. This means the parents have a right to control limit a child’s visitors. Washington had a very liberal law that permitted any person to ask for visitation rights at any time by demonstrating that the visitation was in the child’s best interest.

Since Troxel, courts have been much more circumspect about grandparents’ visitation with grandchildren. And most family law practitioners advise care when grandparents consider litigation with their adult children about the issue because the outcome is likely to worsen the overall domestic situation.

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