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Maryland

January 18, 2007

State High Court Protects Parents Against In-law Intrusion

Maryland’s highest court on Friday overturned 14 years of state judicial precedent and said that absent exceptional circumstances or parental unfitness, and detriment to the grandchildren, grandparents have no right to brush aside parents’ wishes and demand visitation with grandchildren. The court lined up squarely with principles announced in 2000 by the United States Supreme Court in Troxel vs. Granville.

The family wanted to limit the time the grandparents spent with their children. The grandparents filed suit and demanded that the court order the parents to give them more time with the grandchildren.

A Maryland statute allowed a judge to order grandparent visitation if the judge thought it was in “the best interests of the child.” This subjective standard gave judges a blank check to substitute their own judgment for that of parents.

On appeal, however, the Maryland high court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a judge to usurp parental discretion unless “exceptional circumstances” are present, or the parents have been determined to be unfit, and there would be detriment to the grandchildren. The high court sent the case back down to the trial court to determine this.

The high court recognized the right to parental autonomy and said that when the trial court considers the case again, the parents must be given the benefit of a presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children. This is in keeping with previous decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court strictly scrutinized the grandparent visitation statute because parents’ rights to determine whom their children spend time with is a right of high constitutional magnitude—a “fundamental” right. This right takes priority over a right established only by state statutes, such as grandparent visitation.

The right to educate one’s own children does not stand in isolation. It is supported by other rights: the right of parents to control the upbringing of their children; and (often) the right to the free exercise of one’s religion. Home School Legal Defense Association protects these underlying rights in order to protect the right to home education itself. We applaud the decision of the high court. We plan to follow up and evaluate whether Maryland law needs to be amended to line up with the high court’s decision.

 Other Resources

To read the full text of the court decision.

Parental Rights: Why Now is the Time to Act