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Constitutional considerations could affect grandparents' rights

Not too long ago, we described the criteria that Pennsylvania courts use to determine grandparents' rights to custody of their grandchildren. Philadelphia County grandparents may wonder if there are other legal considerations that could impact their rights with respect to their grandchildren. There is a U.S. Supreme Court case that dealt with the relationship between grandparents' rights and parents' rights. This blog post will give a 10,000 foot view of this Supreme Court decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court usually does not wade into issues of state family law. It may do so, however, if there appear to be important constitutional rights at stake. This was the case back in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court heard a grandparents' rights case from Washington state. In past decisions, the Supreme Court has ruled that parents have a fundamental right to make certain decisions regarding the care, custody and control of their children.

The Supreme Court ruled that a state law infringed on parents' fundamental rights regarding the upbringing of their children. The state law allowed courts to award visitation rights to anyone, including grandparents, if it was deemed to be in the best interests of the child. The court said this was too broad because it could override the will of parents who were competent to make these kinds of decisions themselves.

The law in question was much broader than Pennsylvania's current grandparents' rights law, so Keystone State grandparents probably don't have to worry about their visitation arrangements being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Still, it goes to show why this is such a complex area of law and why having legal assistance can be such a good idea.

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