Throughout the United States, capable parents with custody of their children have the final say on visitation rights for third parties. While this is the guiding principle for disputes, different states guard the rights of parents to varying degrees.
Grandparents are one group hoping to weaken those parental rights, arguing that they are entitled to visitation and that they play a role in the lives of their grandchildren.
Grandparents in Louisiana and across the country are becoming more and more vocal about the issue, claiming family law courts need to recognize the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren and realize how important it is to their development. Children and their grandparents can be robbed of this relationship when parents decide to block the interaction between the two parties.
Grandparents in some states are lobbying for legislation that allows them to get into a family court to plead their side of the case in such situations. This winter, the United States Supreme Court will determine whether they will reexamine the issue of parental and third party visitation rights.
Advocates for the rights of parents argue that parents should determine to what degree a grandparent is involved in a child's life. Many people automatically assume that grandparents are positive, loving figures, when that is not always the case. According to some, if a parent does not see a grandparent as a positive influence, they should be able to block them off from contact.
Advocates also say giving third parties the power to make child-rearing decisions would prove to be detrimental.
Every state has laws for non-parent third parties who are seeking visitation of a child, but in 2000, the Supreme Court said none of those laws could infringe on the rights of competent parents.
Still, after a number of lawsuits, divorces, remarriages and disputes, the protocol in each individual state has evolved, lending varied power to third parties seeking visitation. Grandparents can sue in some states if parents completely cut them off from their grandchildren. In some cases, grandparents have to prove in court that the child is suffering because of the lack of a relationship.
Source: Associated Press, "States' grandparent visitation laws raise concern," Stephanie Reitz, Nov. 6, 2011