Tuesday, October 11, 2005

custody - grandparent rights - Troxel distinguished - Ohio case

Harrold v. Collier - Ohio Supreme Court - October 10, 2005


The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the grandparents of an 8 year-old girl must be allowed to visit her, even if her father objects, upholding the validity of a state law granting nonparents visitation rights to children. The Court said the Ohio law was narrower than the one struck down in Troxel v. Granville, 530 US 57 (2000) in that, inter alia, it granted right only to parents and other relatives of an unmarried, deceased parent. The Washington law allowed any third party to petition for visitation.

In the Ohio case, the child had lived with her deceased mother and the latter's parents. The mother died when the child was two, and the child continued to live with the maternal grandparents until she was five, when the father was granted primary custody. He refused to allow any contact by the maternal grandparents, who then petition for visitation.

The court said that Ohio courts were obligated to give "special weight" to the wishes of parents when considering visitation for nonparents. Using a strict scrutiny test, the court held that the visitation statute was constitutional and served a compelling governmental interest. The court said that, despite the "special weight" given to a parent's wishes, that Troxel did not require a nonparent to show "overwhelmingly clear circumstances" to support forcing visitation, but rather declined to defined "' the precise scope of the parental due process rights in the visitation context.' "

Unlike the Washington statute, the Ohio law applied only where one parent was deceased and the parents were unmarried; it also gave special consideration to the wishes of the surviving parents. The court said that nothing in Troxel indicated that the presumption that parents act in a child's best interest was irrebuttable that a parent's wishes were to be the sole determinant of a child's best interests, or placed above the child's best interests.

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services