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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Visitation rights revisited

Who decides who has access to children anyway? The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in January and will rule by summer on a Washington State Supreme Court decision saying that parents have a nearly absolute right to restrict their children's access to anyone, including grandparents.

In the Washington case, Jenifer and Gary Troxel sued the mother of their two granddaughters for visitation rights several years after their son, the girls' father, committed suicide.

Some feel the government has no right to tell parents how to raise children. Others say denying children access to grandparents deprives them of a loving relationship. Rebecca Grothe of Search Institute, the Minneapolis think-tank on child development, agrees with the latter. "Our research on developmental assets for children shows it's important to have at least three adults besides the parents who love and care about the children," she says.

"The intergenerational connection is critical, and the most logical is with grandparents."

What are the legal implications? Brigitte Bell, a family lawyer in Chicago and a member of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Evanston, Ill., says: "Generally, absolute rules of any kind don't make sense in the family law context. Families and relationships are much too fluid as is our societal concept of what even constitutes a ‘family.’"


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November issue

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