In recent years, due to high divorce rates and a change in family dynamics, there has been a great deal of litigation over grandparents’ right to see their grandchildren. As a result, all states have created statutes authorizing a court to award visitation to a grandparent under certain circumstances.
In Minnesota, courts have broad discretion to determine what is in the best interests of a child, including with regard to a grandparent’s visitation time. Where, as is often the case, the grandparents are the parents of a deceased parent of the child, Minnesota law has created a mechanism for the grandparents to make a request for grandparents’ 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 parent-child relationship. 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 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 grandparents’ home, the grandparents may petition the district court for an order granting them reasonable visitation rights to the child. In those cases, the court must consider the amount of contact between the parents or grandparents and the child prior to the petition.
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.
Keep in mind that all 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.
These visitation laws do not protect only grandparents. Minnesota has extended visitation rights beyond only familial relationships. Under Minnesota law, any 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 is very similar to that where a grandparent requests visitation rights, and includes a finding that the petitioner and child had established emotional ties creating a parent and child relationship. In such cases, the court is specifically directed by statute to consider the reasonable preference of a child, deemed by the court to be of sufficient age to express a preference.
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