After an intergenerational fight, a divorce or, worse yet, the death of an adult child, grandparents worry about their rights to see and protect their grandchildren. Whether you’re convinced that your son-in-law is neglecting or hitting your grandchild or failing to feed her nutritious food; or you’ve become estranged with your daughter after a bitter fight about family money, but you still want to play a constructive role in the life of your grandchild, you face significant obstacle, legal and otherwise.

Minnesota law does provide grandparents with specific, limited rights over their grandchildren. Depending on the circumstances, grandparents can even directly seek relief from the courts to spend time with their grandchildren, if the parents refuse permission.

Here’s a primer on important details about these rights:

Previous Living Arrangements

If the child previously lived with the grandparents for at least one year, they can file a request for visitation with the courts, if and when the child’s parents remove the child from the grandparents. The courts will consider the best interests of the child, as long as the visitation does not interfere with the relationship between the parents and child.

Additional Visitation Rights Explained

Grandparents also can advocate for the right to visitation when the grandparent is either the parent of a child’s deceased parent or a parent whose rights were terminated through adoption. Again, this arrangement can only happen if the court agrees that the visitation is in the child’s best interest and if the visitation does not interfere with the relationship between the child and the parents.

Factors the Court Considers When Evaluating Grandparental Rights

The court places a high priority on the best interests of the child and tends to favor parental rights over grandparental rights, all things being equal. When determining whether to grant grandparents visitation or custody (e.g. in cases in which a parent stands accused of abuse/neglect or criminal behavior), the courts will review the following:

•    The grandparents’ level of involvement in the child’s life.
•    The relationship between the child and the grandparents.
•    The grandparents’ ability to care for the child and provide a nurturing, safe environment.

Even if a visitation petition is denied, grandparents have the right to refile a petition after six months or even sooner, if the parents agree in writing.

Limits on Grandparent Rights

If the parents are married without conflict, and the children reside with the parents, grandparents do not have legal rights to visitation. Visitation laws come into effect when the parents decide to divorce or separate. Grandparents can file a visitation petition any time during this process or after it is final until the child turns 18.