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Grandparents Find Hope in a Bill That Would Make it Easier to Seek Visitation Rights

In Texas, the custody statute does not provide statutory factors for a court to determine proper custody. Conditions for grandparent visitation rights include a determination that one of the child's parents is deceased, incompetent, incarcerated, or has had his or her parental rights terminated. Visitation may also be awarded if the parents are divorced, the child has been abused or neglected, the child has been adjudicated a delinquent or in need of supervision, or the child has lived with the grandparent for at least six. Adoption cuts off the visitation rights of the grandparent unless the adoption is granted to a step-parent.

On March 7, 2019, we posted a blog explaining the Supreme Court case that was a key element in defining what states can and cannot do as regards the issue of grandparents rights with respect to their grandchildren. This is what we said:

"On June 5, 2000, the United States Supreme Court handed down a seminal ruling as regards the complex issue of grandparents rights. In the case of Troxel v. Granville, the court struck down a Washington state law that allowed any third party (i.e. grandparents, etc.) to petition state courts for child visitation rights over parental objections. 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." 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."

In Texas, the custody statute does not provide statutory factors for a court to determine proper custody. Conditions for grandparent visitation rights include a determination that one of the child's parents is deceased, incompetent, incarcerated, or has had his or her parental rights terminated.  Visitation may also be awarded if the parents are divorced, the child has been abused or neglected, the child has been adjudicated a delinquent or in need of supervision, or the child has lived with the grandparent for at least six months. Adoption cuts off the visitation rights of the grandparent unless the adoption is granted to a step-parent.

During the 2019 Texas legislative session, State Representative Harold Dutton, Jr., introduced House Bill 575 which, if enacted into law, could help some Texas grandparents spend more time with their grandchildren, even if the parents are divorced. The bill lowers the legal standards for in-laws to obtain access to, or even possession of, the family's children. The bill also say that one of the child's parents doesn't have to be dead, locked up, incompetent or estranged for a grandparent to seek visitation.

Supporters of the bill contend while the bill helps grandparents potentially gain more access to grandchildren, it still maintains significant protections for parents.

Opponents of the bill say that by lowering the legal standards for grandparents it opens to door for many more families to be sued by grandparents, even, for example, estranged grandparents may gain access to grandchildren over their parent's objections. Opponents also fear grandparents with significant financial resources can outspend and outlast the other grandparents, relatives and even parents.

Finally, this issue will only get more complicated in the future. While divorce as a whole has been on the decline for many years, senior divorce is growing dramatically. We can foresee the possibility of previous married grandparents perhaps individually competing for access, or even possession, with their ex-spouses.

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