Years ago, our State Legislature and Legislatures across these United States passed laws giving grandparents visitation rights when there was a dispute with a parent. In other words, if the grandparents got into it with the parents there was a statutory right to go ask a court to award visitation to the grandparents over the parent’s objections.
Judges were, understandably, kind to grandparents. Often a thoughtless comment or cross words between a parent and a mother-in-law or a father-in-law would put a stop to visitation with a much loved grandchild.
These cases were truly heart wrenching. They were especially emotional when a parent had died, and the surviving parent limited or would not allow visitation with the grandparents.
These are cases that are heard without a jury and lend themselves to judges really wanting people to resolve these cases among themselves. When they couldn’t, the courts found themselves in the position of having to split the baby much like King Solomon.
In the early ‘90s, the United States Supreme Court ruled that State Statutory Grandparent visitation statutes were by and large unconstitutional. In some ways the analysis by the Supreme Court was based on a concept of what the law was at the time that the United States broke away from England. Historically, parents have had the absolute right to determine with whom their children associated. Not long after that decision, other state courts followed suit. Alabama did as well. Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court reaffirmed that a parent generally has the right to deny or limit visitation.
In the recent case, the trial court found that there was a great relationship between the grandparent and the child, and that the grandparent was a person of good character. The trial court then awarded visitation. The Alabama Supreme Court said without evidence that the child would suffer harm if the relationship was limited or denied, the trial court was without the authority to order visitation over the parent’s objections.
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