Cox article examines grandparent visitation rights across the country

COLUMBIA, SC – Burnette Shutt & McDaniel attorney Sarah J.M. Cox takes a thorough look at visitation rights as they apply to grandparents and other third parties in the latest edition of “Children’s Legal Rights Journal.”

The journal, sponsored by the Loyola University Chicago School of Law in cooperation with the National Association of Counsel for Children, examines a wide range of issues, including child welfare, adoption, education, mental health, juvenile justice and more.

The goal is to give attorneys practical resources they can use to better-represent child clients.

Cox’s just-published article examines grandparent and third-party visitation rights in all 50 states. The laws vary widely, she found. Cox also reviews a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Troxel v Granville, and offers policy suggestions.

The issue of grandparent rights dates at least to 1894, when a Louisiana grandmother asked the court to force the widowed father of her grandchildren to allow them to visit her home. The court refused, saying that grandparent visitation was a moral, not a legal, obligation.

Grandparent visitation a changing legal issue

The law has steadily evolved since then, with some states operating under the presumption that a relationship with a grandparent tends to be in the child’s best interest. Others, however, consider grandparent visitation only in the legal absence of the parent whose parent is petitioning.

Some states, such as Arkansas, require that the grandparent have a pre-existing relationship with the child. Others, such as South Carolina, do not. Some states have extended visitation rights to other third parties, such as a former stepparent or partner of the parent.

In South Carolina, family courts must find that awarding grandparent visitation wouldn’t interfere with the parent-child relationship, Cox wrote. Problems, and protracted litigation, can arise, though, because case law on what constitutes interference is fairly limited, she found.

In addition to grandparents’ rights, Cox focuses her practice on employment, personal injury, civil litigation and appellate advocacy. She also can represent clients in name and gender-change issues.