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Supreme Court, Family Court

The Supreme Court came down where it should have this week regarding the difficult issue of state-ordered visitation rights for grandparents. It found that parents' rights to make basic decisions regarding their children's lives are primary, and constitutionally protected.

The court was hardly unified, however. The six-justice majority, which took issue with a Washington State law that allowed mandatory grandparent visits, included three separate opinions. The dissenting justices each wrote an opinion.

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The complexity of the subject, at a time of evolving family structures, was evident. One justice took note of that complexity, warning the court to avoid rulings that focus too narrowly on parents' rights to control children. Another objected that the court was stepping into an arena best reserved to the states, local authorities, or, ideally, to families themselves.

Parts of a number of the opinions rang true. But the perspective with the loudest ring of truth prevailed: that responsible parents should be able to guide their families, free from undue state interference.

The court's decision, focused on what it termed the overly broad Washington law, doesn't necessarily invalidate other state laws that have a similar purpose. This ruling should, however, start people thinking about ways other than litigation to resolve such matters as visitation rights of grandparents. That adversarial process is not likely to result in harmonious extended families.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society