The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently upheld an order awarding generous visitation to grandparents in A.B. v. Verzhbitskaya, A14-1656, (Minn. Ct. App. June 15, 2015). The Court held that a visitation schedule that provided the grandparents with one weekend and one weekday afternoon a month as well a weekly school visits, a nine-day summer visit, and daytime visits on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve was not excessive.
Minnesota Statute 257C.08, subd. 1 (2014) provides that, when a parent of a minor child is deceased, the court may order reasonable visitation by the deceased parent’s parents (the child’s grandparents) if the visitation is in the best interests of the child and the visitation will not interfere with the relationship between the surviving parent and the child, and the court is to consider the amount of contact with the child and his/her grandparents before the parent’s death. The courts have held that the grandparents bear the burden of proof that their visitation will not interfere with the parent/child relationship.
Understanding the Case
In this case, the child had turned eleven shortly after the father’s death, and there was no dispute that the visitation with the grandparents was in the best interest in the child. In fact, there was testimony that a school counselor had encouraged the grandparents to visit the child at school during lunchtime.
Before the father’s death, the mother had sole physical and legal custody, and the father had parenting time on alternating weekends and Wednesday overnights. The grandparents testified that they frequently saw their grandchild during their son’s visitation time.
The Court’s Decision
The Minnesota Court of Appeals first held that the amount of visitation time was not excessive. It noted that the amount of time was significantly less than the amount of parenting time that the father had enjoyed when he was alive and it was consistent with the amount of contact that the grandparents had with their grandchild during the father’s lifetime.
The appeals court also found that the grandparents had met the burden of proof that their visitation would not interfere with the mother’s relationship with her child. Although the mother had cultural concerns that the grandparents were interfering with her decision to raise her child in the Russian Orthodox Church and had taken the child to Catholic church, the court found that the grandparents had provided credible testimony that they would accommodate the mother’s concerns and they would no longer take the child to Catholic church if they had visitation.
The court completely disregarded the mother’s claims that the grandparents had interfered with her legal rights to her ex-husband’s estate, stating that those financial concerns were irrelevant to the parent/child relationship. Thus, it is important that any claims of interference by grandparents focus on the relationship between the parent and child and not on financial issues between the parent and the grandparents.
Also rejected was the mother’s argument that other family members be barred from assisting in dropping the child off and picking the child up. The court found the argument was forfeited because the mother did not provide any legal authority to bar others from facilitating the transfers of the child.
The court did reverse the district court’s decision awarding visitation to relatives other than the grandparents, such as the child’s aunt. The court held that the statute limits visitation to grandparents, so there was no legal basis to extend independent visitation to aunts and other family members. The court did note that the grandparents did have the right to allow other relatives to join with them in their visitation time.
Do you have questions about a family law issue, including visitation, support or custody? Be sure to contact an experienced Minnesota family law attorney for tailored guidance and counsel.