Grandparent’s Rights - The Supreme Court's Troxel Decision
THE SUPREME COURT’S TROXEL DECISION ON GRANDPARENTS’ RIGHTS
In June 2000, The United States Supreme Court addressed the issue
of non-parent visitation rights, including grandparent visitation,
in a case called “Troxel”. At issue in Troxel was the
constitutionality of a Washington State statute, which allowed
grandparents and other non-parents to petition for visitation rights
whenever the visitation would serve the child’s best interests.
In Troxel, the grandparents were awarded visitation rights with
their deceased son’s children under the state’s broad
non-parent visitation statute. The mother objected to the amount
of visitation awarded to the grandparents and appealed. The Washington
State Supreme Court found that the statute impermissibly interfered
with a parent’s fundamental interest in the care, custody
and companionship of the child. The Court held that a State may
interfere with a parent’s fundamental right to raise his
or her child only to prevent harm or potential harm to the child.
Upon further review, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision
and held that Washington’s non-parent visitation statute
violated a parent’s due process right to be the sole decision
maker in issues concerning their child.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Troxel
was based on the specific case-related facts and did not address
the broader impact of non-parent visitation statutes across the
country. The Troxel decision also fell short of establishing a
hierarchy among the different classes of non-parents who seek visitation.
Furthermore, Troxel failed to identify a uniform standard for analyzing
the non-parent visitation statutes of an individual state.
Colorado’s third party and grandparent visitation statute
faced a Troxel-like challenge in September 2002 in a case titled “In
re Custody of C.M.” In C.M., the Colorado Court of Appeals
upheld Colorado’s current visitation law. The Court found
that, unlike the statute in Troxel, Colorado’s visitation
statute limits standing to grandparents and permits a petition
for visitation only if there is or has been a child custody case
or a case concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities.
The Court held that Colorado’s grandparents’ rights
law does provide appropriate deference to parents’ fundamental
rights to raise their children.
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