Parental Rights in Massachusetts

Massachusetts State Law and Parental Rights

Not Explicitly Defined and Protected

Massachusetts does not have a state statute that explicitly defines and protects parental rights as fundamental rights.

  • Massachusetts Constitution Amendment XVIII (Section 4) states that no child who is an inmate of any institution shall be compelled to attend religious services or receive religious instruction without the consent of his parent.
  • Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71, § 32A requires parental/guardian notification when a school implements sex education curriculum, and allows for penalty-free exemption.
  • The Massachusetts grandparent visitation statute is found in ALM GL ch. 119, § 39D. It allows a grandparent to seek visitation only if (1) either or both of the child's parents are deceased; (2) the child's parents are divorced; or (3) the child was born out of wedlock and the parents are not living together, but only if the child's father has established paternity (in the case of paternal grandparents.) The trial court may grant visitation if it determines that "visitation rights would be in the best interests of the minor."

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Massachusetts Courts and Parental Rights

"Strict Scrutiny" Applied to Parental Rights

In Blixt v. Blixt, 774 N.E.2d 1052, 1057 (Mass. 2002) the MA Supreme Court recognized that "a parent's liberty interest in child rearing is indeed fundamental" and that "when a fundamental right is at stake, the so-called 'strict scrutiny' formula for examining the constitutionality of State infringement on that right comes into play." The court ruled that the MA grandparent visitation statute was constitutional by interpreting it in a narrowly tailored way to further a compelling state interest in disrupted homes. However, this precedent is subject to change.