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Visitation Rights To Be Decided

September 28, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether grandparents are entitled to visitation rights to their grandchildren when the children’s parents object.

The justices said they will use a case from Washington state to make their first venture into the area of ``grandparents’ rights.″ All 50 states have some type of law allowing court-ordered visitation for grandparents.

Washington’s highest court struck down its state law, ruling that only parents are entitled to court-enforced visitation rights.

Most such state laws were enacted by the early 1990s, and the Supreme Court repeatedly has turned away requests to review them.

In 1992, the justices rejected challenges to grandparent-visitation laws in Kentucky and Wisconsin. But in 1995, the court let stand a state court’s ruling that struck down a Georgia law allowing grandparents to win such access to their grandchildren over parents’ objections.

In the Washington case acted on today, Gary and Jenifer Troxel of Anacortes, Wash., are seeking visitation rights to their young granddaughters, Natalie and Isabelle, over the objections of the girls’ mother, Tommie Granville Wynn.

The girls’ father, Brad Troxel, committed suicide in 1993.

Brad Troxel and Tommie Granville, who were never married, had two daughters during their relationship. When they separated, Troxel lived with his parents. The girls regularly visited their father at their paternal grandparents’ home.

After Troxel’s death, the girls continued visiting their grandparents regularly but their mother then sought to limit their visits.

In late 1993, the Troxels went into state court to obtain enforceable visitation rights, and in 1995 were awarded visitation one weekend each month, one week during the summer and four hours on the girls’ birthdays.

While Granville appealed, she married Kelly Wynn. He then adopted Natalie and Isabelle.

A state appeals court and the Washington Supreme Court ruled against the grandparents.

``Parents have a right to limit visitation of their children with third persons,″ the state Supreme Court said in its decision Dec. 24.

``The family entity is the core element upon which modern civilization is founded. ... A parent’s constitutionally protected right to rear his or her children without state interference has been recognized as a fundamental liberty interest ... and also as a fundamental right derived from the privacy rights inherent in the Constitution,″ the state court said.

It noted that the Washington law gave ``any person″ the right to petition for visitation rights.

``We recognize that in certain circumstances where a child has enjoyed a substantial relationship with a third person, arbitrarily depriving the child of the relationship could cause severe psychological harm to the child,″ the state court said. But it said the state law’s lack of safeguards could do too much damage to stable families in which one or both parents are found to be fit.

The case is Troxel vs. Granville, 99-138.

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