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Grandparents' rights: The growing national debate continues

Grandparents' rights are an issue of growing importance here in Arizona and across the country. Whether married or not, when parents separate or divorce the grandparents of any children involved often feel disenfranchised. Courts and legislatures have attempted to address the issue of grandparents' rights for years, and a recent case stretching between two states underscores the fact that the debate continues.

The controlling law is based upon a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized certain constitutional rights of parents to raise their own children. Despite that, one state near Arizona has had a grandparents' rights statute on the books for at just about 20 years. A recent case pitting a mother against her own parents in another state has caused some to propose a new law seeking to restore the legal rights of parents. Others, however, claim the current law already accomplishes that.

A Texas mother was having trouble with her son, and she turned to her parents for help. The parents, who live in New Mexico, ran a program for troubled youth called Teen Challenge. The mother says she agreed to send her son to New Mexico to her parents to enroll the boy in the program. Instead, the mother claims the parents did not enroll the youth, but sought and won custody of him through the courts in their state. In addition to awarding custody, that court also ordered the mother to pay child support, and the boy has apparently indicated he wants to live with his grandparents.

While a move is now underfoot in Texas to pass a parental rights law, at least one law professor thinks the move is unnecessary. She notes that, under the current laws, grandparents must demonstrate exceptional circumstances to gain access, particularly in view of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Proof that the child is actually in danger may be required before courts act in the best interests of a child.

Nevertheless, grandparents' rights remain an important issue nationally. While each state treats these concerns differently, the focus is on balancing the constitutional rights of parents with the best interests of a child and the rights of a grandparent to visitation or more. These are complicated issues that depend upon the facts of a particular matter. As such, they deserve careful consideration and advocacy to convince a court to act in what is truly the best interests of the children involved.

Source: KCBD.com, "Critics: Grandparent access law threatens parental rights," Natasha Sweatte, Aug. 27, 2012

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