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01 Jun 2000

By Janet Gilmore, Media Relations

Berkeley -- Four University of California, Berkeley, faculty members are available to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued this morning (Monday, June 5) in the Troxel v. Granville case. The case involves whether grandparents can obtain court-ordered visitations over the objections of a child's parent.

The case is an appeal of a Washington state Supreme Court decision. A local judge granted the paternal grandparents visitation rights, overnight stays and a visitation schedule over the objections of the children's mother after the father committed suicide. But the Washington Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision, concluding that it was overbroad and violated the constitutional rights of parents and their children to family privacy and autonomy.

Though the Troxel case involves grandparents, it also raises questions about the potential visitation rights of any nonparents or unrelated individuals who may have a special relationship with a child.

UC Berkeley experts on family law and children's issues:

Joan Heifetz Hollinger is a visiting law professor and lecturer-in-residence at the campus's School of Law (Boalt Hall). Hollinger and several students from Boalt Hall wrote the friend-of-the-court brief that the National Association of Counsel for Children filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on this matter.

The brief concludes that states are not constitutionally barred from allowing for such court-ordered visitations, but may do so with certain safeguards: Nonparents must show they have a significant relationship with the child and that severing that relationship would be detrimental to the child. In addition, the brief contends, nonparents must show enough evidence to overcome the legal and constitutional presumption that a parent acts in the best interest of the child.

Hollinger supervises the Child Advocacy Clinic at Boalt Hall and teaches family law. She is a leading scholar on the legal and psychosocial aspects of adoptive family relationships. She has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in a number of precedent-setting cases that protect children's ties to adults who function as parents even if they are not their biological parents.

Hollinger will be away from her office through mid-June but can be reached after June 5 via email:

Ira Mark Ellman is a visiting professor at Boalt Hall and an expert in family law. He is a co-author of "Family Law," a leading text used in more than 40 law schools across the country. Ellman holds a tenured permanent position at Arizona State University's College of Law.

Since 1991, Ellman and other scholars, judges and attorneys have been working on a major American Law Institute (ALI) report called "Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution," to be published in early 2001. The U.S. Supreme Court Library has requested information about a chapter of the ALI draft report on custody issues.

Ellman can be reached at Boalt Hall through the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program office: (510) 642-4038 or, after June 19, at his office (510) 542-8305, or by email:

Stephen Sugarman, a law professor at Boalt Hall, is a family law expert. He co-authored the 1998 book "All Our Families." Sugarman can be reached through his office phone, (510) 642-0130 or by email:

Mary Ann Mason, a professor of social welfare and the newly appointed dean of the campus's Graduate Division, has a national reputation as an expert on family and child law. She co-authored the 1998 book "All Our Families." Mason will be away from the office throughout June but will be available for interviews after she returns on July 1. UC Berkeley's Media Relations office can help reporters reach her when she returns.



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