Grandparents Rights – grandparents v. parents
As many of us get older, we are able to see that we need to be tolerant of our parents’ flaws when they deal with our children, their grandchildren.
Sometimes the problems of our childhood are so severe, the actions of our parents so reprehensible or our own sensitivity to slights so great that we cannot make peace with our own parents. Further, for the perceived safety of our own children, we feel that our parents cannot be allowed to interact with our children, their grandchildren. Some, though, are petty and want to use their children for retribution or extortion against the grandparents. However, regardless of the parents’ good or evil intent, the bottom line is the same, the grandparents are not allowed to see their grandchildren.
If you ask most people, they would say that parents should control the persons with which their children associate. Similarly, if you ask most people they would say that generally, grandparents should be able to have meaningful contact with their grandchildren. Still, there are situations in which grandparents want to control their children and their grandchildren and assert that they obviously know better how to raise their grandchildren than the children’s parents do. There are many situations in which conflict arises between parents and grandparent involving grandchildren.
So as is apparent, parents and grandparents, while mostly able to get along concerning the grandchildren, sometimes have a problem. This is when the issue of grandparents’ rights arises and if there is no other way to resolve the conflict between the parents and the grandparents concerning seeing the grandchildren, the parties go to court and let the court make a decision for them.
With divorce on the rise, in-laws are being deprived of contact with the grandchildren, and as the grandparents and the grandchildren no longer lived in the same household, there was also less contact. This led to greater friction concerning the grandparents’ rights to see their grandchildren or conversely, the parents’ rights to control who is around their children. The law has had to step in to create statutory grandparents’ rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court had recognized the rights of parents in several prior cases, but it was in Troxel v. Granville, a 2000 case, that it recognized that the rights of parents were superior to those of grandparents, all things being otherwise equal. Washington State law allowed, “[a]ny person” to petition for visitation rights “at any time.” In the Troxel, case grandparents asked for visitation with their deceased son’s daughters. The trial court gave more visitation to the grandparents than the mother desired and she appealed. The Supreme Court of Washington agreed with mother and the U.S. Supreme Court also agreed saying that the parents have a fundamental right to rear their children and that unless there is evidence that visitation or the amount of visitation with the grandparents will result in harm to the grandchildren, the Court cannot order visitation different from what the parent(s) desire. The Troxel case caused many states to abandon or curtail grandparents’ rights.
While not all states have statutes allowing grandparents’ rights, Arizona does allow grandparents (and great-grandparents) to seek rights with their grandchildren. This is under the Arizona Revised Statutes §§ 25-302 and 25-409. There are many specific items the grandparents must satisfy first, for example, the parents have been divorced for at least three months, However, the key phrase in this statute and the law generally is “child’s best interests.” The court must decide if it is in the child’s best interest for them to have contact with the grandparents. The court can creatively determine how this contact will occur, when, where and under what circumstances.
What is the best interests of the children with respect to grandparents? Generally, grandparent contact is viewed as a good thing, since it reinforces family integrity and unity. This is a benefit to our society because it assists society to be stable. Yet, there are things that may counterbalance this. For example, a grandchild may be asthmatic and the grandparent smokes. Obviously, it would be detrimental if the grandchild were around a smoker due to potential health problems. So, a court would order no smoking around the grandchild. Every situation is different and the court is not likely to step in as a referee for every petty problem between the grandparents and parents, they are adults and should act accordingly.
Bottom Line: In Arizona, there is a procedure for grandparents to petition seeking visitation with their grandchildren, even if the parent(s) disagree. Nonetheless, it is far better to work out some agreement for visitation, using mediation or other alternatives to court, since both sides may exaggerate the faults of the other and one may prevail in court because of this, leaving the other heartbroken.