Grandparent's Rights in Mississippi

Martin v. Koop Defines Best Interest

grandmothers and grandfathers have visitation rights in Mississippi
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The state of Mississippi is generally considered a restrictive state when it comes to grandparents' visitation rights. It restricts the circumstances under which grandparents may sue for visitation with grandchildren. 

When Grandparents May Sue for Visitation

Mississippi law allows grandparents to petition for visitation if they are the parents of a non-custodial parent, a parent whose parental rights have been terminated or a deceased parent.

A grandparent may petition for visitation outside of the above circumstances only if there is a "viable" grandparent-grandchild relationship and if the grandparent has been "unreasonably" denied visitation. The statutes provide two tests for proving a viable relationship. The first is providing part or all of a child's financial support for at least six months. The second is having frequent visits with the child, including occasional overnight visits, for a period of at least one year.

The law does not provide any guidelines for what constitutes an unreasonable denial of visitation.

Grandparents may not file for visitation with a child who has been adopted unless one of the adoptive parents is a natural parent or unless one of the adoptive parents was related to the child by blood or marriage prior to the adoption. Persons who became grandparents through adoption are entitled to sue for visitation just like other grandparents.

Best Interests of the Child

In Mississippi, as in all of the 50 states, the courts must consider the best interests of the child. Mississippi statutes do not enumerate any factors to be considered in determining best interest, but in the 1997 case of Martin v. Coop, the Mississippi Supreme Court listed ten factors.

These include:

  • Any disruption caused by visitation
  • The suitability of the grandparent's home
  • The age of the child
  • The age and both the physical and mental health of the grandparents
  • Any emotional ties between grandparent and grandchild
  • The grandparent's moral fitness
  • The physical distance between the child's home and the grandparent's
  • Any undermining of the parent's discipline by the grandparent
  • Any responsibilities associated with the employment of the grandparent
  • The grandparent's willingness to accept the parent's child-rearing decisions.

These factors have been widely embraced as guidelines for determining the best interests of the child. The court, however, is not limited to these factors.

Other Significant Cases

As in other states of the Union, the laws of the state of Mississippi were called into question by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 ruling of Troxel v. Granville. That decision basically said that fit parents are presumed to be acting in the best interests of their children, even when they eliminate contact with family members. Troxel v. Granville is considered a great blow to grandparents' rights. It also forced all states to re-evaluate their grandparent visitation statutes. Some state courts concluded that their laws were indeed unconstitutional.

Most of those states have passed new laws designed to comply with Troxel v. Granville.

Mississippi was in a better position than many states, however, as its laws interpreted grandparents' rights very narrowly. And indeed the constitutionality of Mississippi's law was affirmed in 2003 in the Mississippi Supreme Court case of Stacy v. Ross. In that case, the court found that Mississippi law possessed the "narrower reading" required by Troxel v. Granville.

In the case of Smith v. Wilson, the Mississippi Supreme Court again affirmed the constitutionality of the existing law and the "Martin" factors. This affirmation was important because the Martin factors date to 1997, three years before Troxel v. Granville. 

More About Mississippi Legal System

In Mississippi, as in four other states, the legal system is divided into two types of courts.

Chancery courts are considered courts of equity rather than courts of law, but of course, they operate under the laws of the state. Most grandparent visitation cases and other domestic disputes are tried in chancery court. 

See Mississippi Statutes 93-16-3 and 93-16-7.

Go back to grandparents rights by state.