In a case involving grandparents from Irvine, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned a law that allowed grandparents to request visiting rights after finding it unconstitutionally violated the “fundamental right to parenthood.”
The High Court ruling on Friday says parents have a right to “custody, care and control” of their children. Idaho state law “apparently allows grandparents to request visits over fit parent objections,” Judge John Stegner wrote for the unanimous court. The court found that the visitation rights were unconstitutional.
The case has been in the Idaho courts since 2017, when Dennis and Linda Nelson of Irvine, California, asked a judge to allow them a visit with their three granddaughters – then aged 11, 9 and 6 and residing in Coeur d’Alene -Area.
The girls’ parents, Stephanie and Brian Evans, had left California and cut ties with the Nelsons, Stephanie’s mother and stepfather. Stephanie Evans said her mother was manipulative and frequently violated her parental boundaries — like taking the kids to Disneyland instead of going on the more modest trips the parents had requested, and taking them home after the allotted time.
In 2015, the Evanses moved to Idaho, leaving the Irvine home that their grandparents helped them buy. They ended all contact between their children and the Nelsons.
After losing their visitation request in two lower courts, the Nelsons appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court.
The Evanses had argued that state law allowing grandparents to visit does not apply to families where the parents are married and live with the children. The High Court ruled in 2020 that while the law falls under the “divorce proceedings” category of the Idaho Code, it still applies in the case of “intact families.” Therefore, it said the Nelsons had the right to request a visit, and it remanded the case back to the lower court.
Last year, the lower court admitted that the grandparents assimilated into the Evans family to an “exorbitant” degree and that the grandmother’s behavior undermined the parents in the children’s eyes. It also stated that the Evanses are “clearly fit and proper parents.” Still, the court questioned how the Evanses severed their children’s ties with their grandparents, saying they may not have adequately explained their concerns to the grandparents before cutting ties.
“Although it was determined that the Nelsons had harmed the grandchildren by acting as they had, the county court then ordered a visit,” as long as the grandparents first sought counseling, according to court documents.
However, the Evanses asked the court to declare the visitation law unconstitutional. They argued the law served no compelling state interest and allowed fit parents of overzealous grandparents to be brought to justice.
The Supreme Court agreed that the law was unconstitutional, noting that the case had burdened the Evans family — including more than $50,000 worth of attorney fees.
“The Nelsons’ conduct in this case has taken a significant financial and emotional toll on Stephanie and Brian and likely their three daughters as well,” Stegner wrote.
Referring the case back to the district court would only result in additional litigation, the Supreme Court justices found, dismissing the visiting case outright.