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States Differ On Grandparents’ Rights To Visit Grandchildren

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JULY 30, 2001 VOLUME 9, NUMBER 5

When the United States Supreme Court decided its landmark case regarding grandparents’ visitation rights in June of 2000, the Justices might have thought they were laying many of the legal issues to rest. Troxel v. Granville decided that the law in Washington State giving grandparents the right to court-ordered visitation is unconstitutional, at least as it was applied to the facts of that case. That case determined that Tommie Granville has the right to decide whether and how her children’s paternal grandparents would have contact with their grandchildren.

Rather than resolving the question, the Supreme Court’s decision has increased the number of cases addressing the grandparent visitation issue. Each state court is faced with three choices:

Decide that their own state statute is invalid.
Determine that the statute may be valid, but the application of the statute in the individual case is unacceptable, or
Uphold their own state statute and determine that it is valid as applied in the individual case.

It is too early to determine the final resolution of grandparent visitation battles, or the statutory language that is most likely to be upheld. Recent decisions from state courts include:

Arizona’s Court of Appeals upheld the Arizona visitation law and the order granting a grandmother rights even after her son (the children’s father) had consented to adoption by the children’s step-father. Jackson v. Tangreen, December 26, 2000 (see the the January 1, 2001, Elder Law Issues for more information on this Arizona case).

Mississippi’s Supreme Court upheld a visitation order granted to the maternal grandparents of two children. Their mother had been incarcerated in another state on murder charges and their father disapproved of the contact the children had with their mother during visitations, but the Court mandated visits. Zeman v. Stanford, July 26, 2001.

Indiana’s Court of Appeals determined that there is a presumption that fit parents’ decisions about visitation are in the children’s best interests, and that grandparents (and the courts) must overcome that presumption before visitation can be ordered. Evidence that visitation might be in the children’s best interests was not enough to overcome the parent’s constitutional right to make the decision. Crafton v. Gibson, July 11, 2001.

New Jersey’s Superior Court Appellate Division decided that the paternal grandfather was not entitled to court-ordered visitation over the objections of the children’s mother. At least part of the Court’s decision was based on the grandfather’s egregious treatment of his late son’s widow in the litigation itself. Wilde v. Wilde, June 22, 2001.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.