Grandparents’ Visitation Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court

Over a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court decided Troxel v. Granville, a case that shaped how courts handle grandparents’ visitation rights. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided that fit parents are presumed to act in their children’s best interests and that no state should interfere to second-guess the decisions of the parents in denying grandparents’ visitation with their grandchildren.

Many states rewrote their visitation laws following the Supreme Court’s decision in an effort to give more rights to grandparents. However, last year, the Supreme Court underscored its position on grandparents’ visitation, finding Alabama’s “Grandparent Visitation Act” unconstitutional in that it violates the rights of parents to raise their children by not including a presumption favoring parents.

Even in the wake of these decisions, the issue is not fully settled. Today, state grandparent visitation laws vary widely, from prohibiting grandparents from seeing their grandchildren unless the parents agree, to courts applying a “best interest” standard in determining whether grandparents can visit their grandchildren, despite the parents’ wishes.

In Missouri, there are laws that protect a grandparent’s visitation rights. For example, a court may grant reasonable visitation to grandparents when:

  • the parents have filed for a divorce; or
  • one parent is deceased, and the surviving parent has denied reasonable visitation to the parent of the deceased parent; or
  • the child has resided in the grandparent’s home for at least 6 months within the 24-month period before the grandparent files a petition seeking visitation and the grandparent is unreasonably denied visitation with the child for a period exceeding 90 days.  However, if the parents of the child are still married and living with the child, the grandparent cannot file a petition for visitation.

These rights are not automatic, however, and if the parents are legally married and living together with the child, the parent is presumed to know what is in the best interest of the child.

However, Missouri has a mediation provision for grandparents in this situation, which provides that a grandparent denied visitation can request court ordered mediation. Sometimes, this is the least traumatic avenue to pursue. If you find yourself in this situation, as either a parent or a grandparent, remember that court does not bring families together. In fact, it does quite the opposite.

No matter which avenue you choose to take, it’s not easy. The issue of grandparents’ rights is surrounded by high emotions and extensive debate. Parents believe that they should determine who can spend time with their children and that the courts should not be able to step in to order grandparent visitation over their objections. The litigation in these circumstances varies from intact two-parent families being sued by grandparents to situations stemming from tumultuous divorces and remarriages or disputes with one parent after the other dies.

With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today.