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The uncertainty of grandparent visitation rights in Alabama

There are few more joyous occasions for Alabama grandparents than spending time with their grandchildren. Yet, given the importance of grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives, some Alabama residents might be surprised to learn that it may be difficult to gain child visitation rights after a child’s parents divorce.

It used to be the case in Alabama that, if a non-custodial parent died, the grandparents would have visitation rights in their place. However, this law was struck down as unconstitutional in 1999.

Since then, the legislature has tried multiple times to craft a statute that would pass a constitutional challenge. For instance, in 2003, the statute was amended to allow grandparent visitation when it is in the best interests of the child and certain events have occurred, such as one or both of the parents being deceased. The Alabama Supreme Court recently struck down the visitation statute, focusing on the parent’s constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit.

The focus on the rights of the custodial parent harken back to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 that concluded that grandparents’ visitation rights conflicted with the custodial parent’s right to make decisions regarding the care, custody and control of the children. That case left open the possibility for a permissible grandparent visitation statute.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what the legislature will do next in terms of grandparent visitation statutes. However, for those grandparents who are seeking visitation, or those parents who are seeking to avoid it, it may be best to work with a qualified family law attorney to determine the best options under current law.

Source: WKRG, “Grandparent’s visitation rights in Alabama,” Ashley Knight, Feb. 1, 2013