Troxel v. Granville
530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000)

  • Tommie and Brad never married, but they had two children together. Eventually they separated. They informally agreed to share custody.
    • Brad lived with his parents (the Troxels), and often brought the two children home.
  • Two years later, Brad died. Brad's parents (the childrens' grandparents) wanted to keep seeing their grandkids, but Tommie objected.
  • The Troxels sued to get visitation rights.
  • The Trial Court awarded visitation rights to the Troxels. Tommie appealed.
    • The Trial Court looked to Washington law (26.10.160(3)) and found that it allowed non-parents to petition for visitation rights.
      • Specifically, 26.10.160(3) says "any person may petition the court for visitation rights at any time including, but not limited to, custody proceedings," and the courts may grant such rights whenever "visitation may serve the best interests of the child."
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The Troxels appealed.
    • The Appellate court found that 26.10.160(3) non-parents lack standing to seek visitation unless there was a custody action pending (which there was not).
  • The Washington Supreme Court affirmed, but on different grounds.
    • The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and found that the plain language of 26.10.160(3) gave the Troxels standing to seek visitation rights.
    • However, the Court found that 26.10.160(3) was a violation of the Federal Constitution.
      • The Court found that 26.10.160(3) interfered with the fundamental right of parents to raise their children in two ways:
        • The Constitution only allows a State to interfere with the right of parents to rear their children to prevent harm to the child.
        • The fact that 26.10.160(3) allows any person to seek visitation rights was too broad. Parents have the fundamental right to choose who their children get to associate with.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that 26.10.160(3) was unconstitutional because it allows anyone to petition a court for child visitation rights over parental objections and therefore unconstitutionally infringes on parents' fundamental right to rear their children.
  • There was no claim that Tommie was an unfit parent. If there had been then the Troxels might have been able to argue that Tommie's parental rights be terminated and that the Court consider the best interests of the child. But without a claim of unfitness, the Troxels (standing as a third party non-parent) are not allowed to make a best interests argument.
    • Compare to Painter v. Bannister (140 N.W. 152 (1966)).