Grandparents’ Rights: A Hot Topic in Family Law
Grandparent visitation rights legislation is a difficult issue because some parents are clearly justified in denying a grandparent’s access to a grandchild, as in cases of present or past abuse, while other parents simply may not want to maintain a relationship with a child’s grandparent.
Several states have enacted and upheld grandparent visitation laws, permitting grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren even against the wishes of the children’s parents. Alabama is not one of those states. In June, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down the state’s grandparent visitation law, ruling that it unconstitutionally violated the right of fit parents to decide whether their children should see their grandparents.
Grandparents Visitation Law Struck Down in Alabama
As reported by the Associated Press, Alabama Associate Justice Tom Parker, writing for the majority, said the case was about “when a state may impinge upon the fundamental right of a fit, natural parent to decide which associations are in the best interests of his or her children.” He went on to write, “The law is unconstitutional because the state overstepped its bounds with the law.” The case arose out of a dispute in Jefferson County, in which a couple used the law to sue for visitation with their grandchildren. The couple had a falling out with their son and daughter-in-law after a bad business deal, and they were no longer allowed to see their grandchildren as a result. A trial court granted grandparents’ visitation, but the decision was reversed on appeal. The appellate court upheld the constitutionality of the law, however, while the Alabama Supreme Court struck down the law entirely when the case came before it.
The Alabama ruling follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s take on the issue in Troxel v. Granville, an 11-year-old decision that held competent parents’ wishes must get top priority when grandparents sue for visitation with their grandchildren. Because of recent state decisions and legislation, which vary significantly from state to state – for example, Tennessee passed its grandparents’ rights law in the same week Alabama struck its law down – many courts and legislatures hope the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit and clarify its stance on the matter.
Seek Experienced, Compassionate Family Law Counsel
If you have a child visitation concern as a parent or grandparent, please contact Lana Hawkins, Attorney at Law, at The Hawkins Law Firm, for advice and representation from an experienced Alabama family law attorney.