U.S. Supreme Court backs away from contested visitation case

Every state, including Georgia, provides for grandparent rights to visitation (and, sometimes, custody) of grandchildren, but the thornier question is how a judge should proceed when a child’s parents are united in opposition to visitation.

The states are, flatly, far from united in how they approach that issue, with one commentator terming their disunion a “deep split.”

Some states, for example, provide for a presumption that favors the parents yet does not on its face bar grandparent visitation if the parents object to it. Often, the guiding rule in these states stresses factors that are deemed to constitute the best interests of the child.

Georgia is more in accord with the camp of states that requires some proof that a parent or parents together are somehow unfit and that grandparents need to have contact to prevent harm. In Georgia, there is little a grandparent can do in the absence of a divorce or custody action and in the event a child still lives with both parents. Typically, a request for visitation or custody has more force following the death of a parent or when family violence, neglect or abuse has been firmly established.

A case was recently brought to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal from the Alabama Supreme Court, with attorneys of both sides seeking a “bright line” standard from the Court that might clear up grandparent/parent visitation disputes and provide a clear constitutional guideline that all states might be able to apply in future cases.

The Court — which last visited grandparent visitation in a case more than a decade ago — sidestepped the issue, declining to take the case without comment.

The question, as stated in a brief to the Court, thus remains open at the highest judicial level: “Under what circumstances may a judge grant grandparent visitation over a parent’s objection?”

The legal team representing the grandparents in the Alabama case stated that the Supreme Court “will eventually have to give” an answer to that question.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, “Do grandparents get visitation rights? Supreme Court declines case.” Warren Richey, Feb. 21, 2012

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