Supreme Court Hears Grandparents' Visitation Rights Case

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a case which could determine whether grandparents have constitutional visitation rights with their grandchildren, even when the parents object.

The case involves a Washington state law which allows grandparents to request court permission to visit with a child despite any opposition from one of the child's parents.

But the law in Washington goes another step beyond allowing grandparents visitation rights and extends to any individual the right to request court-ordered visitation rights.

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Gary and Jennifer Troxel, an Anacortes, WA, couple who sought a legal right to visit with two of their granddaughters, 8-year-old Isabelle and 10-year-old Natalie.

In 1993, the Troxel's son, Brad, committed suicide, leaving behind his two daughters and their mother, Tommie Granville, whom he had not married. The younger Troxel lived with his parents after he ended his relationship with Granville.

During that time, the two girls reportedly visited with their father on a regular basis at the Troxel home.

Questions from the panel of nine Supreme Court justices, most of whom are grandparents themselves, suggest that the Washington law may not have much of a future.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist cited previous court decisions granting parents the sole right to decide how children are reared. Rehnquist also suggested the Washington law might allow for various family members to arbitrarily seek visitation rights at any given time.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor echoed Rehnquist's concern that a law so broad would allow anyone to "march in" to visit with any child.

The Court's decision is due by this June.