Janet L. Goehle, Attorney at Law
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Grandparents' rights in divorce

Being a grandparent is one of the joys of growing older. Grandchildren bring life and love to a home, filling it once again with the sound of playful laughter and learning. For many grandparents, learning that their child will be divorcing is difficult. They were likely hoping that their child would enter into a lifelong, positive, loving relationship when they married.

Unfortunately, more than half of marriages in the United States end in divorce, and when contentious divorces happen, custody of the marital children quickly becomes an issue. If the other parent receives full custody, the grandparents, who are the parents of the non-custodial spouse, may be left with a hole in their life that was once filled by their beloved grandchildren.

Do grandparents have rights if their child doesn't?

This is a very complex issue and the answer varies from state to state and from case to case. In Minnesota, grandparents typically have trouble obtaining visitation without the cooperation of the custodial parent. In fact, the way the law currently applies generally means that only grandparents whose grandchildren previously lived with them have the legal right to seek visitation appointed by the courts. Even in that situation, the courts will expect evidence or testimony to show that these visits are in the best interest of the children involved.

In cases of suspected parental alienation by the custodial parent, there may be some possibility of court intervention to support grandparents' rights, but parental alienation can be difficult to prove in court. Unless their child, the non-custodial parent, is fighting in court to regain partial or full custody of one's children, it will be difficult for grandparents to obtain assistance from family courts or other state agencies when it comes to visitation.

What options do grandparents have?

If you are struggling with not being able to visit with or have contact with your grandchildren due to your child's divorce, sitting down to discuss your situation with a skilled divorce and family law attorney is the best first step. They can advise you, based on the specifics of your situation, of how to best approach the situation.

Retaining an attorney and requesting an in-office sit down with the custodial parent is often a recommended first step. The presence of an attorney and the neutral location can make it easier to convince the custodial parent to agree to the meeting. It is important to be calm and respectful when speaking with the custodial parent, and to carefully elucidate the benefits for the custodial parent (including respite and potential financial contributions to the child's needs or education), as well as the benefits for the children in retaining a positive, ongoing relationship with their grandparents. If that meeting fails to yield positive results, your attorney can then advise you on the best way to proceed.

Custody battles can be difficult, emotionally draining, and frustrating. Trying to find a resolution that works for all parties (and getting that resolution in writing so that it is provable in the future) can be difficult, but with the right legal advice and guidance, it is often possible.

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