What Visitation Rights Do Grandparents Have in Wyoming?
In June of 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, as unconstitutional, a Washington state law that allowed the a Washington state court to order visitation for any person petitioning the court when visitation would serve the best interests of the child. Following the death of their son, the paternal grandparents sought visitation under this law. The U.S. Supreme Court found, among other things, that the law violated the mother’s substantive due process rights, because it gave the trial judge unfettered discretion. At a minimum, due process required that the trial judge accord “special weight to mother’s own determination of her children’s best interests.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 571, 20 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000).
Soon after the Troxel decision, Wyoming’s legislature repealed the state’s entire grandparent visitation statute without replacing it. However, by 2006, rulings by state supreme courts in Pennsylvania, Utah and Colorado favoring grandparents suggested that even under the limitations of Troxel, the rights of grandparents seeking time with their grandchildren was gaining ground, particularly in cases involving the death of a parent or another family tragedy.
In 2007, these state Supreme Court decisions provided the necessary impetus for Wyoming’s legislature to enact a new and revamped grandparent visitation statute that expands grandparent’s visitation rights while attempting to comply with Troxel. See W.S. § 20-7-101. The statute provides that if it is in the best interests of the children and if “the rights of the child’s parents are not substantially impaired,” then a Wyoming court may grant “reasonable” visitation to the grandparents. Specifically, the statute reads:
A grandparent may bring an action against any person having custody of the grandparent’s minor grandchild to establish reasonable visitation rights to the child. If the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation would be in the best interest of the child and that the rights of the child’s parents are not substantially impaired, the court shall grant reasonable visitation rights to the grandparent. W.S. § 20-7-101.
Time will tell if Wyoming and other states passing new legislation attempting to expand grandparent’s visitation rights have successfully approached the constitutional line drawn by Troxel without stepping over it.
Grandparents have no visitation rights with a grandchild who is adopted and neither adopting parent has a blood relationship to the adopted child. W.S. § 20-7-101(c).
Importantly, however, if a grandchild is subject to a Juvenile Court proceeding as a child-in-need-of-supervision (CHINS), visitation may be allowed, without filing a petition under W.S. § 20-7-101, if the Juvenile Court Judge finds the visitation to be in the best interests of the child in context of the juvenile court proceeding.