There has recently been a great deal of litigation over grandparents’ right to see their grandchildren.
Generally speaking, the courts expect that grandparents will see their grandchildren during their own child’s parenting time. Unfortunately, there are situations where this doesn’t work, either because the grandparents’ own child is dead or absent, or has had his or her own parenting time severely restricted, or because the grandparents are estranged from their own child, and therefore neither parent is willing to allow visitation.
As a result, all states have created statutes authorizing their courts to award visitation to a grandparent under certain circumstances. In Minnesota, the courts have discretion to determine what is in the best interests of a child, including time with grandparents.
When the grandparents are the parents of a deceased parent of the grandchild, there is a process for the grandparents to establish rights to visitation by filing a document called a petition. The court can grant the grandparent’s request if it finds that visitation rights would be in the best interests of the child and would not interfere with the relationship between the child and living parent.
The court will consider things such as the amount of personal contact between the parents or grandparents of the deceased parent and the child prior to the request.
A petition can also be filed separately and outside of a divorce, paternity, or other legal action if the minor child has lived with the grandparents for a year or more. If that occurs, and the parent subsequently decides to remove the child from that grandparent’s home, the grandparents may petition the district court for an order granting them reasonable visitation rights to the child.
In these cases, the court must consider the amount of contact between the parents or grandparents and the child prior to the filing of the petition. Obviously the most important consideration here will be the extent and quality of the grandparents relationship with the grandchildren. The more extensive and positive the contact, the more likely it is that grandparent visitation will be awarded.
If a petition for grandparent visitation is denied by the court, a grandparent has to wait six months to try again, unless the parties all agree otherwise.
Grandparents’ rights to visitation are terminated when a biological parent’s rights are terminated and/or the child is adopted by a person other than a stepparent or grandparent. However, if a child is adopted by a stepparent, a grandparent or great grandparent may petition the court for an order setting visitation under certain circumstances.
It is important to note that these third party visitation laws do not protect only grandparents and the law has extended visitation rights beyond familial relationships.
Great-grandparents are expressly mentioned in two sections of the statutes, the ones dealing with a child with a deceased parent and the one dealing with children who have lived with a grandparent for a year or more.
Also, any other person who has cared for a minor, other than a foster parent, for two years or more may petition the district court for an order granting the person reasonable visitation rights to the child. The standard of proof is very similar to that where a grandparent requests visitation rights.
In these types of cases, the court is specifically required to consider the reasonable preference of a child, deemed by the Court to be of sufficient age to express a preference, which usually occurs around the age 12.