Court Ruing Stresses Grandparents’ Limited Visitation Rights

Although the following story concerning child custody comes from Minneapolis rather than Fulton County, it is instructive for its portrayal of the types of complex and emotional issues that can arise in custody matters anywhere in the country and how the law responds in such situations. It also serves as a strong reminder of how the diligent representation of an experienced child custody attorney can materially affect the outcome of a custody matter.

A mother of a then-four-month-old boy was murdered by her former boyfriend in 2009. The woman’s family — prominently known in Minnesota for business acumen and philanthropy — rallied around the child, with the child’s grandmother petitioning for and being awarded sole custody.

The boy’s father, who, according to court records, shares a “deep and open acrimony” with the grandmother, had no knowledge of the proceedings. He objected and eventually won custody in late 2009, with liberal visitation granted to the grandmother.

The father objected to that, and appealed, arguing that grandparents do not have the same custodial rights as parents, and that the visitation schedule was unduly interfering with his ability to parent.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with that in a ruling last week, calling the visitation “unprecedented” and stating that the grandmother was being treated more like a parent that a grandparent.

The court conceded that grandparents may be granted visitation rights against a surviving parent’s wishes, but that such rights are more limited than for a parent. The appellate panel ruled that the lower court erred by considering whether the woman’s family could provide financially for the child in a manner that the father could not, and then made that a factor in establishing visitation to the grandmother than included twice-weekly visits and visits every other weekend.

That schedule “logistically interfered” with the father’s relationship with his son, the court wrote, ordering that visitation be changed pursuant to a schedule proposed by the father that still allows for the grandmother to spend a meaningful — though more limited — amount of time with her grandchild.

Related Resource: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Court: Grandparents are not equal to parents” June 22, 2011

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