In a perfect world grandparents would have liberal access to their grandchildren through their relationship with their own children. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Grandparents often find themselves in a tenuous position, carefully navigating the troubled waters and emotional minefields of a child’s hostile divorce, death of their child, or an unstable relationship with their child. These issues often give rise to grandparents having limited, conditional or even no access to a grandchild. What, then, are a grandparent’s rights to custody and parenting time with a grandchild? Can grandparents in Minnesota expect to be protected with regard to their relationship with their grandchildren?
There is good news for Minnesota’s grandparents. The state does provide protection for the relationship between grandparent and grandchild. There are specific statutory conditions that can result in a court-ordered visitation schedule if a grandparent finds that they have been denied any visitation with a grandchild or even if access is severely restricted. According to the details of Minnesota Statute 257C.08 (available online at www.revisor.mn.gov) these are some of the situations that can qualify a grandparent for a judicial hearing regarding their rights to visit their grandchild:
- One of the grandchild’s parents is deceased;
- The grandchild has lived with a grandparent for at least twelve months or
- The parents of the grandchild have been involved in legal proceedings related to divorce, separation and/or child custody.
Judicial proceedings will consider the quality of the relationship a grandparent has with a grandchild. The more positive contact within relationship history the higher the likelihood a judge will award a grandparent with court ordered visitation. Minnesota courts understand that grandparents are important role models for their grandchildren and provide love and support that improves the quality of the grandchild’s life.
In essence, the courts interpret a grandparent’s relationship with a grandchild to be an extension of the the parent/child relationship. In cases of a parent losing parental rights to a child, a grandparent also loses right of access to the grandchild. Although Minnesota courts have historically been reluctant to interfere in such situations, with regard to what is in the best interest of the child, things seem to be changing in favor of grandparents.
The most critical questions the Minnesota judiciary considers where the grandparent/grandchild relationship is concerned are three-fold:
- Is the grandparent’s access affected due to the grandchild’s parents’ marriage dissolution?
- Will court-ordered visitation between the grandparent and grandchild serve the best interest of the child?
- Will court-ordered visitation between the grandparent and grandchild interfere with the parent/child relationship?
It is important for grandparents to understand that, although Minnesota does have laws in place to make it easier to remain involved in the lives of their grandchildren despite complicated family relationship issues, the State’s first priority is to protect the parent/child relationship. The rights of grandparents do not extend to interfering with the parent’s relationship with their child. If a grandparent feels their relationship with a grandchild is threatened by one, or both, parents it is critical to not retaliate but to patiently appeal to the courts.
In every situation the court’s position is to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Even if a grandparent has been accused of interfering with the parent/child relationship, if there is no supportive evidence the court will disregard unsupported allegations. A grandparent may still be awarded visitation with the grandchild.
If a grandparent appeals to the courts, requesting visitation with a grandchild, it is possible that such a request may be denied. If no amicable agreement can then be reached between the parents and the grandparent regarding access to the grandchild, a grandparent has to wait for at least six months to file a petition for another hearing.
If you are a grandparent and are being denied access to your grandchild, please contact us. We can help you understand your rights and counsel you on the steps you can take to restore your relationship.