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Troxel v. Granville TROXEL v. GRANVILLE

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Family Law > Family Law Keyed to Weisberg > Child Custody

Troxel v. Granville

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    Citation. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49, 2000 U.S. LEXIS 3767, 68 U.S.L.W. 4458, 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4345, 2000 Daily Journal DAR 5831, 2000 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3199, 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 365 (U.S. June 5, 2000)

    Brief Fact Summary. The paternal grandparents brought a petition requesting visitation of their granddaughters. The mother agreed to some visitation, but did not agree to the extended visitation requested. Mother appealed the court’s granting of visitation as unconstitutional.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court’s presumption that it is normally in the best interest of children to spend time with the grandparent failed to provide any protection for Granville’s fundamental constitutional right to make decisions concerning the rearing of her own daughters.

    Facts. Tommie Granville and Brad Troxel had two daughters during their relationship, but never married. After the two separated, Brad lived with his parents (the daughters’ paternal grandparents) and regularly brought his daughters to their home for weekend visitation. He committed suicide, but the Troxel grandparents continued to see the daughters on a regular basis. Several months later Granville informed the Troxels that she wished to limit their visitation to one short visit per month. The Troxels filed a petition for visitation, requesting two weekends overnight visitation per month and two weeks of visitation each summer. Granville asked the court to order one day per month with no overnight stay. The Superior Court ordered visitation of one weekend per month, one week during the summer, and four hours on each of the Troxels’ birthdays. Granville appealed, during which time she married Kelly Wynn. The Washington Court of Appeals remanded the case, with the Superior Cour
    t finding that the visitation was in the children’s best interests. Nine months later, Wynn adopted the daughters. The Court of Appeals reversed the order, finding that under statute nonparents lacked standing unless a custody action was pending. The Court did not pass on Granville’s constitutional challenge to the visitation statute.

    Issue. Does the Washington statute allowing any person to petition for visitation rights at any time infringe on the liberty interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children?

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    Troxel v. Granville

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    This article needs attention from an expert in Law. Please add a reason or a talk parameter to this template to explain the issue with the article. WikiProject Law may be able to help recruit an expert. (February 2015)
    United States Supreme Court case
    Troxel v. Granville
    Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg

    Supreme Court of the United States

    Argued January 12, 2000
    Decided June 5, 2000
    Full case nameTroxel et vir v. Granville
    Citations530 U.S. 57 ( more )

    120 S. Ct. 2054; 147 L. Ed. 2d 49; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 3767
    Parents have a fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children, and a law that allows anyone to petition a court for child visitation rights over parental objections unconstitutionally infringes on this right. Courts may not use a freestanding “best interest of the child” standard to overturn parental rights.
    Court membership
    Chief Justice
    William Rehnquist
    Associate Justices
    John P. Stevens  · Sandra Day O’Connor
    Antonin Scalia  · Anthony Kennedy
    David Souter  · Clarence Thomas
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg  · Stephen Breyer
    Case opinions
    PluralityO’Connor, joined by Rehnquist, Ginsburg, Breyer
    Laws applied
    U.S. Const. amend. XIV

    Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), [1] is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States , citing a constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, struck down a Washington state law that allowed any third party to petition state courts for child visitation rights over parental objections.


    • 1 Plurality
    • 2 Concurrences
    • 3 Dissent
    • 4 See also
    • 5 Reference
    • 6 External links

    Plurality[ edit ]

    The Court held that “the interest of parents in the care, custody and control of their children—is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” [2] That fundamental right is implicated in grandparent visitation cases, and as such, it struck down the Washington visitation statute because it unconstitutionally infringed on the right.

    State courts considering non-parent visitation petitions must apply “a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.” [3] Troxel requires that state courts must give “special weight” to a fit parent’s decision to deny non-parent visitation, as well as other decisions made by a parent regarding the care and custody of their children.

    The plurality held that “choices [parents make] about the upbringing of children… are among associational rights… sheltered by the Fourteenth Amendment against the State’s unwarranted usurpation, disregard, or disrespect.” [4] This principle must inform the understanding of the “special weight” that Troxel requires courts to give to parents’ decisions. Even though Troxel does not define “special weight,” previous Supreme Court precedent indicates that “special weight” is a term signifying very considerable deference. [5]

    The “special weight” requirement, as illuminated by these prior Supreme Court cases, means that the deference provided to the parent’s wishes will be overcome only by some compelling governmental interest and by overwhelmingly clear factual circumstances supporting that governmental interest. This is essentially identical to the strict scrutiny standard, in keeping with the fundamental status of parental rights.

    Concurrences[ edit ]

    Justice Souter questioned the Washington Supreme Court’s holding, and the plurality’s strong implication, that actual harm must be demonstrated before a parental decision may be questioned by a state authority, and instead argued that the statute was unconstitutional on its face due to overbreadth .

    Justice Thomas applied strict scrutiny and reached the conclusion that “the State of Washington lacks even a legitimate governmental interest–to say nothing of a compelling one–in second-guessing a fit parent’s decision regarding visitation with third parties.” However, Thomas questioned whether Meyer and Pierce were correctly decided, but floated the possibility that parental rights may be protected under the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment instead. Because neither party asked the Court to do so, Thomas did not reexamine the holdings of Meyer v. Nebraska and Pierce v. Society of Sisters .

    Dissent[ edit ]

    Justice Scalia argued that parents have no enforceable rights because they are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

    Justice Stevens ‘ opinion stated that parents have some rights under the Constitution, but that states may infringe upon them to guarantee the child’s interest in a relationship with third parties. Stevens stated that parental rights may not be exercised in a way that a state court may deem to be “arbitrary”, and that the best interest of the child standard was sufficient.

    Justice Kennedy likewise argued that the best interest of the child standard may be applied, but the parent’s decision should be given some weight, and stated that the judgment should be vacated and remanded to the Washington courts to determine whether the factual circumstances justified overturning Granville’s decision. Kennedy also raised the concern that state family court procedures may be disrupted by the Court’s holding.

    See also[ edit ]

    • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 530
    • List of United States Supreme Court cases
    • Lists of United States Supreme Court cases by volume
    • Meyer v. Nebraska
    • Pierce v. Society of Sisters
    • Parham v. J.R.
    • Family law
    • Parental rights

    Reference[ edit ]

    1. ^ Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).
    2. ^ Troxel, 530 U.S. at 65.
    3. ^ Troxel, 530 U.S. at 69.
    4. ^ M.L.B. v. S.L.J. , 519 U.S. 102, 116-117 (1996).
    5. ^ See, for example, Comstock v. Group of Institutional Investors , 335 US 211, 230 (1948); Tibbs v. Florida , 457 US 31 (1982).
    • Edward Walsh, “Court Limits Visitation Rights of Grandparents; State Can’t Overrule Decision Of a Fit Parent, Justices Say,” Washington Post, June 6, 2000.
    • Joan Catherine Bohl, “That ‘Thorny Issue’ Redux: California Grandparent Visitation Law in the Wake of Troxel v. Granville” 36 Golden Gate U.L.Rev (2006)

    External links[ edit ]

    • Works related to Troxel v. Granville at Wikisource
    • Text of Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000) is available from:   CourtListener    Google Scholar    Justia    Library of Congress    Oyez (oral argument audio)  
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          Troxel v. Granville

          Following is the case brief for Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)

          Case Summary of Troxel v. Granville:

          • A Washington State statute allowed any person to petition the court for visitation rights at any time, and gave the court complete authority to make a determination in the best interest of the child.
          • Petitioner grandparents sought, and the trial court granted, visitation of their grandchildren under the statute, over the object of the children’s mother.
          • The Washington Supreme Court ultimately held that the broadly worded statute is unconstitutional.
          • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed.  It held that the statute violated due process because it interfered with the mother’s fundamental right to rear her children.

          Troxel v. Granville Case Brief

          Statement of the Facts:

          A State of Washington child visitation statute allowed any person to apply for visitation rights at any time, and a state court could order such visitation if it served the best interest of the child.  In this case, the Troxels, petititioners, applied for the right to visit their two granddaughters, who were the children of their deceased son and respondent Tommie Granville.  Granville, who was amenable to the Troxels having some visitation, opposed the amount of visitation the Troxels requested.

          Procedural History:

          • After a trial, the trial court awarded the Troxels visitation in an amount greater than what Granville wanted.
          • On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order.  It held that the Troxels lacked standing to ask for visitation.
          • The Washington Supreme Court affirmed.  However, it rejected the appellate court’s standing rationale, and held that the Washington visitation statute was unconstitutional because it infringed on a parents’ right to rear their children.
          • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

          Issue and Holding:

          Is a statute that allows any person to ask for child visitation rights, over the objection of the child’s parents, an infringement on the fundamental right of parents to rear their children?  Yes.


          The judgment of the Washington Supreme Court is affirmed.

          Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

          A law giving any person the right to seek child visitation over the objection of the child’s parents is an infringement on the fundamental right of parents over the care, custody, and control of their children.


          The fundamental right parents have to rear their children emanates from the Fourteenth Amendment ’s Due Process Clause.  In this case, the Washington statute is exceptionally broad.  It allows any person at any time to seek the right to visitation.  Further, any person could obtain that right based only on a court determination, without giving any deference to the child’s parents. Given that the law presumes that a fit parent acts in the best interest of the child, the Washington statute violates due process.

          Because this case rests on the improperly broad sweep of the statute, and its application, there is no need to decide whether (i) due process requires a showing of potential harm to the child before awarding visitation, or (ii) the scope of the parental rights in the visitation context.  The case ends here.  There is no need to remand for further proceedings because the court’s visitation order clearly violates the Constitution .

          Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

          Concurring Opinion (Souter):

          The Washington Supreme Court found the visitation statute unconstitutional.  That holding should simply be affirmed with no further inquiry into the parameters of due process.

          Concurring Opinion (Thomas):

          The Court fails to identify the appropriate standard of review.  For an infringement on a fundamental right, strict scrutiny should be used.

          Dissenting Opinion (Stevens):

          The Court would have been wiser not to hear this case.  Because the Washington statute is unique, there is no pressing need to review it.  But, since the Court did address the merits, the Court should have directly addressed why the statute is facially invalid, and remanded for further proceedings.


          Troxel v. Granville emphasizes the special deference courts should give to parents’ fundamental right to raise their children.  It, therefore, served to slow down the proliferation of child visitation statutes that reflect the changing nature of the nuclear family in today’s society.

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