A South Dakota Mother and Father reportedly suffer from substance abuse and psychological conditions.
Mother and Father have a four year old Daughter together. They split up.
Grandparents seek custody of Daughter.
A US Supreme Court decision in 2000, Troxel, virtually eradicated grandparent custody and visitation rights previously recognized by many states.
Nonetheless, in the last several years, some states have been testing the boundaries of Troxel, trying to revive grandparents’ rights.
Especially where, as in this case, for whatever reason, the parents are less than model.
At trial in family court, the grandparents’ petition is denied, because the law it is predicated on is held to be unconstitutional. The specific defect cited by the divorce court is that grandparents may be awarded custody without a finding that the parents are unfit.
But the family court is reversed on appeal to the state’s highest court. Redemption is delivered by a requirement that a court favor fit parents and award custody to third parties only in extraordinary circumstances, such as parental unfitness, abandonment or neglect.
The South Dakota Supreme Court rules that Troxel falls short of mandating that parents be found unfit before awarding custody to a third party. According to them, Troxel requires only that fit parents’ wishes be substantial deference.