People usually associate grandparents with hugs, cookies and unconditional love. In general, grandparents and their grandchildren have a special bond. This relationship is often threatened, however, by family acrimony, a child's being born out of wedlock, divorce or the death of one of the child's parents, according to the Grandparents Rights Organization (GRO).
The Grandparents Rights Organization, a national group that supports grandparents' rights, was established in 1984. The GRO educates, supports and advocates for a continued relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren even in cases of broken homes. Still, the state of the rights of grandparents is terrible, family lawyer Richard Kent says on the GRO's website.
A 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case, Troxel vs. Granville, reduced the rights of grandparents in favor of parental rights. The case involved a man who had two daughters and committed suicide. He had never married his children's mother. The father's parents maintained a relationship with the girls even after their son's death, but when the mother remarried, she began to limit the grandparents' visits. The grandparents sued, and the case went to the Supreme Court. A 6-3 ruling went against the grandparents, upholding the superiority of parental rights.
State Laws Differ
Each state governs the rights of grandparents to have access to their grandchildren. Grandparents must follow the law of the state where their grandchild lives.
The most lenient states simply require that grandparent visits be in the best interest of the child, and that the grandparents not harm the child or put the child in a dangerous situation.
Other states make it tougher and will hear a grandparent's case only if parents completely deny visitation. If parents limit visitation to a very infrequent amount, in some states grandparents must accept that.
Some states grant rights only to grandparents whose grandchildren have lived with them at some point.
The most restrictive states require proof that grandparents actually have a parent-child role with the child before they are deemed to have any rights.
Grassroots efforts are under way--through the AARP, the GRO and local groups such as California-based Grandparents as Parents--to support grandparents who wish to have visitation with their grandchildren. These groups lobby for grandparent rights and offer support programs to grandparents struggling with this issue.
Children already experiencing emotional disconnection after the death or divorce of parents may be further harmed emotionally if denied visits with their grandparents, GRO advocate Richard S. Victor says. Victor says that sometimes custodial parents make bad decisions regarding visitation, and that their children suffer if their relationship with their grandparents is severed.