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Court Strikes Grandparent-Visitation

January 28, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The Florida Supreme Court struck down part of a state law that gives grandparents the right to seek court-ordered time with their grandchildren, the third time the court has said the state cannot overrule a parent in the matter.

The ruling concerned a provision that gave grandparents greater rights of visitation if the child is ``born out of wedlock.″

As with two other provisions of the law it has struck down, the court ruled the ``out of wedlock″ condition unconstitutionally violates the right of the parents to raise their children as they see fit without interference.

The only two remaining provisions of the law allow grandparents to seek court-ordered visitation when the parents of their grandchildren have divorced or deserted the child.

Thursday’s unanimous decision stemmed from a Palm Beach County dispute involving the 5-year-old son of Dominick Brunetti and Beth Saul. Their son, Tyler, lived with his mother and her parents until she was killed in a car accident. When Tyler then moved in with his father, the mother’s parents sought the right to see him, and a judge awarded them weekly visits.

All 50 states have laws allowing grandparents and others to seek visitation after divorces or under other circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a challenge to a Washington state law, is looking at the conflict between a state’s desire to promote children’s best interests and parents’ right to raise their children free from government interference.

Visitation laws have been struck down or sharply narrowed in a few other states, including Georgia and Tennessee, but generally have survived court challenges.

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