Shirley Berens,
President & Founder of
Grandparents Resource Center (USA), based in Denver, Colorado.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling          

    Recently, the United States Supreme Court made a ruling in the case of Troxel vs. Granville, a grandparents' visitation issue. On the day of the ruling, Monday, June 5, 2000, I followed the Supreme Court's ruling very closely, and I empathized with the pain Gary and Jenifer Troxel have had to go through by the Supreme Court's ruling, striking down the State of Washington's Visitation law. Many law makers and news media in Colorado called my office that morning to fetch my opinion, as an expert in the field of grandparents issues, on the Supreme Court's ruling, and the Justices' comments on the ruling. I was on the news all afternoon and night, commenting on the ruling. I would like to share my convictions and throw some light on the issue for all of you.
   The Supreme Court's ruling on Monday, did not invalidate grandparents visitation rights. It only struck down Washington State's Visitation Law, which is too broad, and undefined. The Supreme Court did not rule in general against grandparents' visitation rights. However, while the ruling negates Gary's and Jenifer's rights of visitation, I must say that it serves to correct and redefine the Law in the State of Washington. The law is too broad and unspecific. It opens the doors for just anyone at all who may have had some kind of a relationship with a child to petition to court for visitation. Such a law must be nonexistent.
   The law that I helped write (H.B. 91-1255), and which was passed in 1991, in the State of Colorado, is specific to grandparents visitation. However, in order for it to pass, it had to be revised to exclude visitation within intact families (if the biological parents decide against such visitation), and be limited to non-intact families, i.e., if the original mother and father are not together, and only as long as such visitation is "in the best interest of the child(ren)." This is the kind of definition that holds to make a case for grandparents visitation in the State of Colorado. It seems then, with this specific definition of the law, that the Troxels have a case in their favor. However, because of the nature of the law under which they were granted visitation at first by the court, the Supreme Court's ruling did negate their visiting rights, although, the ruling did not make any specific reference whatsoever to their case at point. Hopefully, if the Washington Law is revised and reworded with specific definitions, it might shed a better grace on grandparents visitation in that State. The adoption of the Troxels granddaughters by their stepfather also renders the grandparents' visitation at stake. It's a shame, though, that the US Supreme Court didn't make any specific ruling in the Troxels' case other than the general ruling that "so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children . . . there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children."
    While I agree partly with this statement, my problem with it is that, it assumes a general pattern that all parents are responsible. It is the case that not all parents are being responsible these days. Many young parents are being negligent of the their parental responsibilities toward their children. As a result, we have so many children in foster care who are being abused; more than 2 million grandparents are raising about 5.5 million grandchildren in the United States. What happened to the parental responsibilities in these circumstances?
    Negating the importance of grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren, even in intact families, is detrimental to the children. Grandparents are not the cause of the high rate of divorce in which children become victims of parental negligence. Grandparents are not responsible for the high rate of drug abuse, incarceration, domestic violence, and other factors that put children at-risk in the immediate families. The parents are.
    In my 16 years experience serving grandparent families, nationwide, through my organization, Grandparents Resource Center (USA), it has always been the case that parental interest is weighed over the children's wishes. Many of the issues tied in grandparents visitation, in which parents have denied grandparents visiting time with the grandchildren, has to do with adult grudges between the parents and the grandparents, and very little to do with the children in question. The children's opinions and desires are not taken into consideration, let alone what is in their best interest. Yet, in the more than 10,000 visitation cases that I have dealt with, the children were already in at-risk or dysfunctional family situations. Very few cases fit the "criterion" described by the US Supreme Court.
    Justice O'Connor indicated that the Supreme Court's decision was rested "on the broad sweeping breadth of the law and the application of that broad, unlimited power in this case." The primary constitutional question raised by the Washington Supreme Court, for which the Troxels lost their case in that court, was not even tackled by the US Supreme Court. In its ruling, the Supreme Court recognized, "a fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children," without the State's interference. Yet, we often have the state stepping in and telling families how to raise their children in terms of upkeep and discipline.
    Again, as grandparents, we must not be blind to the fact that, there are also some grandparents who are not fit to be left alone with children, but who take advantage of the plight of grandparental with grandchildren and cause problems for their adult children's families. There has recently been a case in California where a grandmother fought a legal battle with her daughter, over her grandchildren, costing her daughter $130,000 in legal fees and loss of her home. What a thing for a grandmother who truly loves her grandchildren to do.
    In the meantime, grandparents should relax, because the Supreme Court's ruling on Monday, June 5, is not against grandparents rights to visitation. Grandparents Visitation Laws in other states remain intact.
    It is my fervent hope, however, that the girls (Natalie and Isabelle) will in the future (when they grow older) revisit this issue to reestablish their relationship with their grandparents, Gary and Jenifer. The girls have a voice, too, and they need to be heard. Thank you all for your patience in awaiting this ruling, and, above all, for your prayers and support for the Troxels.

copyright 2000, GRC (Pub. 0113).

Shirley Berens, President & CEO
Grandparents Resource Center (USA)
P. O. Box 27064
Denver, CO 80227-0064
Tel: 303-980-5707
Fax: 303-984-0138
Email:              Top