Overview of Grandparents' Rights
In 2000, in Troxel v. Granville, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that parents have an unfettered right to determine who has access to their children absent a compelling state interest. The Court’s ruling struck down a Washington statute that permitted grandparents to sue for visitation rights. Essentially, the ruling held that if you are good enough to be a parent then you are good enough to determine who gets to spend time with your children. However, the Troxel opinion should not be seen as the death knell of grandparent rights; but instead, as a mandate that state legislative bodies must promulgate more specific statutes that permit grandparents to seek custody and/or access to their grandchildren.
For the most part, litigation involving grandparents falls under two distinct categories. The first category can be classified as "grandparental visitation" and addresses a grandparent's ability to file suit to seek access and possession of their grandchildren. The second category can be classified as "grandparental managing conservatorship" and seeks to appoint grandparents as the child's managing conservator. The second type of litigation is utilized when the Child Protective Services has either taken temporary conservatorship of the grandchildren or has become involved in the family due to an allegation of abuse and/or neglect. Additionally, a grandparent may come to believe that their child is an unfit parent and seek custody of their grandchildren prior to any state involvement.