The rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit must be taken into consideration when grandparents ask courts to issue visitation orders for their grandchildren, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The court on Thursday upheld a state district court’s ruling against Jill and Shane Ailport, the grandparents of five children who asked a court to establish visitation rules for the grandchildren.
Supreme Court justices, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Keith Kautz, said if the Ailports’ request had been granted, it would have infringed on the rights of the children’s parents.
“Parents have a fundamental due process right to guide the upbringing of their children, including determining the level of contact with their grandparents,” the ruling said, “… (State law) must be interpreted to protect parents’ fundamental right by requiring grandparents to prove parents are unfit to make visitation decisions for their children or the parents’ visitation decisions are or will be harmful to the children.”
According to the ruling, the Ailports have two sons who have had five children of their own. In August 2019, “a rift developed between grandparents and parents.” The opinion did not specify what caused the dispute.
A few months later the Ailports filed a petition to establish visitation rights with their grandchildren, relying on a state law that allows grandparents to seek such an order if they can prove visitation would be in the best interests of the children and if the rights of the parents would not be impaired by the order.
The parents of the children agreed visitation with the Ailports was in the children’s best interests, but wanted to keep authority over when, where and under what conditions the visitations would occur.
The state district court ruled that the Ailports failed to prove they were entitled to a visitation order over the objections of the parents.
The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the state district court in Converse County, saying the grandparents were not able to prove why the court should interfere with the rights of parents in dictating visitation to a grandparent.
The Ailports were not able to provide evidence that the children would be harmed by the decision of their parents to retain authority over visits, the ruling said.
It added that evidence showed the parents had given the Ailports opportunities to visit their grandchildren on the parents’ terms, usually at the parents’ homes.
“Grandparents in this case did not meet their burden of establishing parents were unfit or made visitation decisions harmful to children,” the ruling said.